Tories turn to French agency for campaign

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Indy Politics

The French-owned advertising agency which turned Citroë* cars into giant robots has been hired to transform the electoral fortunes of the Conservatives. Euro RSCG, which had a hand in the Tories' "Brown Bottler" stunt, lampooning Gordon Brown outside Downing Street on Sunday, is to devise a series of poster and television campaigns for the party in the approach to the next general election.

David Cameron has been looking for a new creative partner since dispensing with the services of the M&C Saatchi agency founded by Margaret Thatcher's favourite advertising gurus, Maurice and Charles Saatchi. Euro RSCG, owned by the French conglomerate Havas, creates campaigns for a roster of large French companies including L'Oréal, Danone, AirFrance, Citroë* and Peugeot. In Britain, it is known for its work for Windolene, Lemsip and Mr Sheen, and has a reputation for producing solid, albeit unexciting, advertising. However, the company has appointed a new creative team in London and is keen to raise its profile. It has won praise for its Citroë* ads, which feature a car transforming into a giant robot.

With The Sun newspaper, it mocked Gordon Brown's refusal to call a referendum on the EU treaty by superimposing the Prime Minister's head on to the body of Winston Churchill, and showed him giving a 'V' rather than a 'Victory' sign. For the Conservative Party account, Euro RSCG has set up a separate unit called Euro Referendum, again referring to calls for a vote on the EU constitution.

When Mr Brown ruled out a snap election on Sunday, the Conservatives, advised by Euro RSC, sent protesters dressed in brown bottle outfits to the gates of Downing Street.

The appointment of the agency comes a month after Labour hired another French-owned group, Saatchi and Saatchi, which, under the Saatchi brothers 18 years ago, helped to topple James Callaghan's Labour government with the slogan "Labour is not working".

The Tories, whose other famous electoral campaigns included the Labour tax "bombshell" of the 1990s, refused to discuss the Euro RSCG contract. However, it is understood the agency will oversee production of the party's electoral posters, television and cinema adverts and more modern forms of communication such as email, which will play an important role in any campaign. The budget is likely to be several million pounds. Political accounts are a double-edged sword for agencies, because they pay relatively little for high-profile work which can be associated with abject failure. Had Mr Brown called an election, Euro RSCG would have had only days to prepare. Now it has months to plan the campaign, expected in 2009. Chris Pinnington, the chief operating officer of Euro RSCG Worldwide, said its work for The Sun 10 days ago showed it was still possible for "brilliant issue advertising" to capture the public imagination.

"Our job is to create a raft of impossible-to-miss ideas to ensure that the public understands the benefits of a Cameron future and the downsides of a Brown Britain," he added.

The Tories are thought to have been holding talks with various agencies for weeks before picking Euro RSCG. "They're not particularly strategic or creative. They are a very middle-of-the-road agency," said Claire Beale, the editor of Campaign magazine. "Until a week ago [the Conservative Party] was probably an account no one would have wanted but there is a general consensus now that Cameron's fortunes have improved and Brown is on the back foot."

Head to head...

Euro RSCG (Conservative)

* Peugeot – An elephant is enlisted to sit on the bonnet of an Indian man's car. He smiles as he admires the reshaped car, which is revealed to look like a Peugeot

* BMI Baby – A character called Tiny is invented for press and television ads, to give the new budget airline more personality and emphasise its cheap airfares

* Citroë* – A new model mutates like a Transformer, into a running and skating robot, to show the versatility of the car on different surfaces

Saatchi & Saatchi (Labour)

* T-Mobile – Young men and women narrowly escape freak events to highlight the U-fix tariff as one of the fixed things in an unpredictable world

* Carlsberg – The 'Old Lions' campaign shows famous retired footballers playing a Sunday league game, positioning the lager as down-to-earth and the fan's friend

* NSPCC – A girl appears as a ventriloquist's dummy; she cannot say what is happening to her and speaks with her abuser's voice