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The Citroën saga: Audacity à la française

01st Jul 2015

The story of Citroën began in 1919. At the time, the car maker revolutionised the industry with the construction of the first factory-built car: the Type A. The brand quickly became a pioneer in the European automobile and advertising industries.

The brand’s debut

Citroën demonstrated their ability to think big from the very beginning, when they drew their name in the Parisian sky, marking the opening of the 7th Motor Show in 1922. In 1925, the French symbol of excellence, the Eiffel Tower bore the brand’s name – a first for the advertiser and the iron lady, and a partnership that would last for nearly 10 years.

The company did not only communicate through their name; they became a benchmark for designing some of the most famous models in the French car industry.

A worldwide ambassador of French cars

The most classic model of the range has to be the 2CV, which officially entered into production in 1948. But it was not until 1963 that sales took off. Originally, it was designed as a “popular” car that could “carry four people and 50 kg of potatoes or a keg at the maximum speed of 60 km/h”, according to its specifications. In the UK, we like to take notes on the French’s bold and honest advertising techniques. The 2CV is a real star, appearing in popular cinema and French family comedies such as “Le Corniaud“, “Les Valseuses” and more recently international “Cars 2” of Disney-Pixar studios. Today, around the world, the 2CV embodies French excellence and traditional refinement.

Another great classic of the brand is the DS model. Commercialised between 1955 and 1975, the range revolutionised the French market, with its engine design and bold lines. The biggest names in French politics declared the DS their official car, propelling the model into the nation’s heritage. However the car carried a different message in the heart of the French, one of carefreeness and optimism of the economic boom. As a contrast, the brand had different associations overseas; in the US, it was associated with the escapades of the “French Connection”, which managed to carry 164 million dollars’ worth of heroin aboard a DS Cabriolet in 1962, while in the Netherlands, Citroën was truly successful, understandably as the founder was of Dutch origin.

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The years 1980-2000: The Citroën saga

The 1980s marked the exit of the BX and AX’s rigid, simple and reassuring designs. These were also the years of Jacques Séguéla at the head of Euro RSCG and the wacky TV ads, which would certainly bring smiles to the millennials’ faces today. In the United Kingdom, Citroën UK shook the world of advertising with a series of ads deemed politically “incorrect”, with guest star, Claudia Schiffer. However, despite the colourful approach of the brand and its agency, sales did not take off.

New models for a new image

In 2009, the brand opted for “Creative Technology”, a more international slogan which combined what André Gustave Citroën thought were two fundamental values of the brand in 1919. However, the recent revolution of the brand is not solely owed to this. In the same year Citroën surprised, delighted, and broke the rules by unveiling the new DS3. Primarily focused on the French market, the new DS went international and is now completely customisable, much like a high-end fashion accessory.

On the TV commercial side too, it was out with the old and in with the new. This did not include just anyone though! Hitchcock, Monroe and, Lennon, all cutting edge in their field, became associated with the new gem of the brand. Internationally, DS flourished with DS Stores in Tel Aviv, Copenhagen and of course Paris. In Shanghai, things were done bigger and better, with the opening of a luxurious DS World, only a few steps from the Vuitton house, to satisfy demanding customers.

Regarding the C5 a touch of humour and risk are included, but always done with class: the campaign “unmistakeably German” launched in the UK in 2008 was a nod to the German manufacturers, whose values have long been considered the safest bet in the automotive world.

The 1980s are long gone! Citroën is once again seducing foreign and French motorists alike, and with a touch of audacity their models are a reflection of their image.

By Julia Locatelli, in collaboration with Rebecca Latimer

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