Model: Renault Clio
Advertising Agency: Publicis
Nicole: Estelle Skornik
Papa: Max Douchin
This was a hugely popular series of British television adverts running through the 90s. It consisted of 8 short adverts that told the charming story of a young French girl, Nicole, and her father, whom we simply know as ‘Papa.’ Each of the adverts had their own story but they worked together as a sequence to show us Nicole’s growth into a sophisticated young woman, mirroring the car’s development and refinement.
The first advert sets the scene beautifully for the pair’s story. We are in the peaceful countryside of Provence, France.
Here are the first few chapters.
1) interesting – 1991
2) The Meeting – 1992
By the third installment, the pair has been firmly established in the British public’s consciousness and Renault’s reputation as a trusted family vehicle has been cemented. In this third story, we can see a change in direction, as the Provençale countryside is nowhere to be seen. Our two heroes are on a skiing holiday.
3) Skiing – 1993
In the next episode, we see Nicole visiting small boutiques while sporting new designer clothes, a hat and makeup. We also see her greet her new boyfriend – a dashing, young, Vincent Cassel. The makeover is clearly appreciated!
4) The Transformation – 1994
Unfortunately, numbers 5-7 are currently unavailable online. They continue to follow Nicole’s development as a character, mirroring the development and improvements undergone by the Clio 1994-1998. However, it is the last advert that sticks in most people’s minds.
8) The Wedding – 1998
With the new model of Clio to be released imminently, the producers decided to script the final installment of the series.
The final advert was watched by over 23 million viewers, eager to see the conclusion of the now-cult ‘Nicole’ saga. This was a huge figure and demonstrates the series’ popularity. This can also be seen in the presence of two guest stars: comedy duo Bob Mortimer and Vic Reeves at the height of their popularity.
It was created as a parody The Graduate’s conclusion. Her screaming the name ‘Bob’ is the fourth word in the vocabulary of the characters (the third being ‘maman’ in episode 5) of the whole series, suggesting progress. She is moving onwards and upwards.
We see Nicole leaving Vic at the alter and running off with Bob in her new Clio II. This would spawn a new generation of Renault Clio ads, the (also iconic) ‘Va Va Voom’ era. This too would be a huge success. So much so, in fact, that the phrase would later be entered into the English Dictionary, defined as ‘the quality of being exciting, vigorous or sexually attractive…’ It should be pointed out, however, that none of these adverts came close to matching the popularity of the ‘Nicole et Papa’ series.
So what was so special about these adverts?
The series was hugely refreshing to British viewers, and this was the case for several reasons: Along with several other concurrent advertisements, this was one of the first to focus more on the storyline or subject, rather than the product or offer. The focus of the series was, rather than the car itself, the story of Nicole and Papa and their development and relationship.
In a similar vein, it was a move away from the tradition of chauvinism that was very much central to car advertisements up until this point. Nicole was the driving force behind it and the story was about her not her boyfriend, husband or father.
As well as being a breath of fresh air in comparison to the standard British car ad, it very much played to the public’s love affair with the French way of life.
It was the decade in which Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence was on the UK top-seller list for 42 weeks; when, on average, 2 million Britons visited France each year; and when 6.8 million Britons said that after the UK, France was their preferred nation in which to live.
The story’s content was moulded around this national obsession and played into everything that Britain loved about France.
Was it a success?
This affectionate tale was intrinsic to Renault’s rise to prominence in the 90s as well as its securing its position in Britain’s top-10 automobiles.
Even from the first year of trading, the Clio helped Renault to achieve its largest overall market share in a decade, despite a 20.7% decline in overall car sales in the UK in 1991 – the worst decrease in the car industry for 17 years.
Renault has also been quoted saying that the adverts played a crucial role in restoring British faith in their brand.
With regards to accreditation, the series won a number of Advertising Effectiveness Awards. Perhaps more impressively, an independent car advertising study by Sofres Automotive, showed that the campaign was Britain’s most memorable ever, with a record 93% recall figure!
As if this wasn’t enough, the British public voted it their favourite car commercial of all time in a Channel 4/Sunday Times poll in 2000.
Of course, there have been a huge number of references, mentions and parodies of the popular story. Perhaps the most famous of these was the sketch, ‘Papa’ by comedians Alas Smith and Jones.
The iconic black dress in episode 2 (worth £350) became a national talking point, was the one of the most sought-after items of clothing for the public and soon inspired a cut-price copy at Selfridges.
The advert itself has really seeped into the national consciousness and the limited vocabulary has formed part of our lexicon, illustrated by this headline by the Daily Mail, released earlier this year.
Of course, the advert made the actress, Estell Skornik, a household name in Britain, much more so than in her native France. Until recently she has been commented on and referenced by celebrities, the media and even wheeled out to eager crowds at many events as a mini celebrity.
It is undoubtedly an iconic series. In fact, a survey conducted in 1996 found that Nicole was recognized by more Britons than Prime Minister, John Major, award-winning actor, Bob Hoskins or major radio personality, Chris Evans. She was a 90s phenomenon!
Unlike the last iconic car advert we looked at, which had the car and its parts very much at its heart, this campaign demonstrates how they can become iconic, seriously boost the brand and sell a huge amount of cars, without forcing vehicle visuals, statistics and offers down its viewers’ throats.
Its success came through emphasising story, lifestyle and love – and the British public lapped it up.
The Renault Clio itself remains one of Europe’s top selling cars. It is renowned for its handling, size and efficiency. We have several available for easyCar Club members, a perfect chance for you to step into Nicole’s shoes and experience the easy-going lifestyle that everyone fell in love with during the Nineties.
Take a look at his profile here.
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Also, keep an eye out for our next Iconic Car Ads post.