Claire Beale on Advertising

Citroën's cheeky raid into Teutonic heartland drives MPs to road rage
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The Independent Online

Our hero has cheekbones you could sharpen your sabatiers on and impeccably behaved hair. He's in control. We see him elegantly fence a duel outside a snowy Bavarian castle before slipping lithely into his powerful car and thundering past the brooding stone eagle guarding the castle gates.

At the local hunting lodge he's lovingly served suggestive bratwurst by a pouty bierfrau before pounding down to Berlin and parking his motor proprietorially in front of the Brandenburg Gate. And all the while, in the background, Wagner swells majestically.

We're in Germany. Our hero is unmistakably German. His car is unmistakably German. Except that it's made in France. By Citroën. And this is an ad. And there are already calls for the ad to be scrapped, even before it's officially launched.

A band of 10 MPs, led by the Scottish National Party's Angus Robertson, has tabled a motion complaining about what they reckon is the ad's "imagery, symbolism and style reminiscent of the 1930s". They say the campaign "is counterproductive to the reputation of Citroë*and urge it to withdraw the advertisement".

Why the MPs think the reputation of Citroë*is any concern of theirs is anyone's guess. And history shows politicians have a love-hate relationship with the ad industry, so let's not expect objectivity or a sense of perspective. Even so, do they have a point?

Advertising has an uncomfortable record when it comes to any hint of Nazi imagery. Two years ago Spitfire beer came under fire for a press ad that used the Nazi SS insignia. Last year Marks & Spencer dropped Bryan Ferry from its ads after he praised some of the art and architecture that is associated with the Nazi regime.

In the context of such necessary sensitivity, should Citroë*have played safe to avoid any accusations of, at best racial stereotyping, at worst peddling Nazi iconography?

The easy answer is, yes. Citroën's agency Euro RSCG could have plumped for any of the hard-ridden clichés so often used by lazy car advertisers and the ad could have slipped sleepily into the blancmange of car advertising guff. Or they could have tried another creative route that avoided the play between French and German cars. Except that, in Germany, cars are revered for their craftsmanship and quality and for such an unmistakably French brand as Citroë*to plunder this rich Teutonic seam is clever and challenging. The fact that Euro RSCG is a French-born agency, but the ad's made by its London office, also adds to the twist.

Of course, the agency could have toned down all the German imagery, but then the twist at the end would have had nothing like the impact and the idea would have been diluted... and no fun.

And the imagery and style of the whole is hardly tied to the events of the Second World War; the German iconography referred to was around long before the Nazis.

I'd like to think the agency considered the risk of backlash and still decided that the strength of the conceit – and it is a damn good one – and the evident playfulness would diffuse any concerns over stereotyping. After all, stereotypes are adland's prime currency. And the ad is lushly directed, a joy to look at, and lovingly crafted. Everything about it suggests care and attention rather than sloppy thinking.

But I'd hate to think "controversy" of the political kind was a key plank of the strategy and that there was a cynical PR hand moulding the approach.

I would say the acid test is what the man on the street, rather than the men in parliament, thinks. But as we live in a country where people have complained that the vegetables shown in supermarket ads are too phallic, best to make your own mind up: type Citroë*into Youtube to see for yourself.

IT WOULD be terribly disappointing if the new Visa ad didn't attract any complaints. It's got a bare arse in it and ad whingers don't like bare arses. Worse, it's a hairy bare arse. And though we don't see it, we know there's a naked penis thrashing around madly at the front too. The naked backside belongs to a bloke. He's running through the desert: all that sand and blistering sun. Ouch.

Anyway, he keeps on running. Along the way he manages to find some overalls to cover his modesty, then buy a suit, get a haircut, buy a ring. He's the victim of a stag night prank, see, but our man still manages to arrive at the church in time to get hitched. All thanks to his Visa card.

The ad's by Saatchi & Saatchi and directed by Antoine Bardou-Jacquet, who has directed Honda's brilliant advertising over the last few years.

Now ask yourself if you can remember any other ad by Visa. Almost certainly not. You'll remember this one, though. Bared buttocks are still rare enough in British ad breaks that they create real standout. And it's worth repeated viewings. Catch it now before the anti-bum brigade bare their teeth.

CONTINUING THE "ad ban" theme, The Smashing Pumpkins would have liked to ban a Pepsi promo that ran recently. So they're suing their former record company Virgin Records for using their name in a promotion with the cola giant that they reckon has damaged their reputation.

The trouble began with a marketing initiative called Pepsi Stuff. Pepsi Stuff is a venture with Amazon that offers consumers free music or TV downloads in return for collecting Pepsi loyalty points. Virgin Records got involved and used The Smashing Pumpkins brand as part of the Pepsi Stuff promo.

The problem is that the rock group believe the association has jeopardised their artistic integrity and they've filed a breach of contract lawsuit in LA. Apparently, Virgin Records has permission to sell digital downloads of the band's music, but not to use their name in third-party promotional campaigns.

As the band's frontman Billy Corgan puts it: "you're going to see more of this playing fast and loose with the rules... at face value it's not a huge deal. But in terms of precedent it is."

Pepsi Stuff is actually the sort of clever-clever marketing association, with like-minded brands clubbing together for commercial warmth, that canny marketers are exploring more and more. But The Smashing Pumpkin case highlights the potential pitfalls when so many brands become involved.

It's hard to find deals that suit and benefit all parties proportionately and the temptation to shirk due diligence with all the different brands involved is significant. But expect more of this sort of cross-pollinating marketing initiative among like-minded brand "buddies". How appropriate then that the Smashing Pumpkins' latest album is called Zeitgeist.

Claire Beale is Editor of Campaign