The long and glorious passion story between Renault and the French can be told through advertising. By reflecting ̶ and sometimes anticipating ̶ social change, Renault adverts turn an amused and understanding eye on France and the lives of French people, mirroring their individual and collective unconscious.
1898: Advertising to promote the company name
Renault’s first advert was a real challenge: Louis Renault drove up the steep slope of rue Lepic in Montmartre Paris, with his Voiturette Type A. He was the first to achieve this feat, which won him his first orders. The company used motorsports as a way to promote its name. Renault won many city-to-city races, making a name for itself in both France and Europe. In the early 20th century, the adverts used by the company, which was first named “Renault Frères” and then just “Renault”, were a reflection of their times, with thick, elaborate lettering and drawings of cars to emphasize speed and aerodynamics. The adverts sought to showcase French prestige, expertise and the other major field of progress of the time: aviation. Renault linked its image with that of the pioneering aviator, Hélène Boucher.
To welcome its customers in style, Renault displayed its products on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris from 1910, one of the first vehicle manufacturers to do so. With this showroom at the heart of the French capital, the brand was able to showcase its range on the premises occupied today by l’Atelier Renault. In the Edwardian era and between the two world wars, Renault sold luxury cars, relying on its reputation and its name to attract new customers. Brand identity was nurtured by the reflected glory of the FT17 tank, which played a decisive role in the first world war, and expressed in the form of the so-called “alligator” bonnets. The first logo appeared only in 1923, with the brand adopting the diamond shape in 1925. In 1934, Renault adopted an advertising slogan that would remain famous, even after 1944: “L’Automobile de France”. The brand naturally associated itself with France. Today, for French people, Renault remains France’s leading company, as indicated by the latest survey from the Viavoice Institute.
1946: Advertising during the post-war boom
After the Liberation, Renault contributed to the rebuilding of France with a range of cars, commercial vehicles and buses suited to all types of use. Renault was now a state-owned company tasked with building popular, affordable cars. In 1946, it launched the 4CV, a car that marked the start of the post-war boom years. At the same time, cars became more affordable, reflecting a new sense of freedom. With the 4CV, celebrated in the well known poster by illustrator Raymond Savignac, the French could enjoy their paid holiday leave and head for the sun via the Nationale 7 road immortalized in a song by Charles Trenet.
French society underwent many changes in the post-war years, including the baby boom, the development of city suburbs and the women’s liberation movement. All these changes brought the brand new customers. The workforce also gained new social rights. Renault was the first company to offer a third week of paid holiday (1955), followed by a fourth (1962) before this became law.
In 1963, Renault signed a partnership with Publicis for advertising communications. That same year, the dealership on the Champs-Elysées became the “Pub Renault”, a warm and friendly place tasked with showcasing the brand. Advertising now used photographs to present the cars, rather than drawings. The long-serving Renault 4 kept pace with all these changes: the first campaign in 1961 highlighted its fuel economy, while the 1963 version celebrated the more feminine spirit of the “Parisienne” version. A decade later, Michel Fugain sang, “fais un tour en Renault 4, demande-lui beaucoup !” (“go for a drive in the Renault 4 and expect it to deliver the maximum”). In the 1980s, the Renault 4 became a car for young people and also for shopping malls, with the slogan, “Elle supermarche bien”, a play on “bien marcher” (to work well) and “supermarché” (supermarket). In this way, Renault advertising for the 4L accompanied the French public during thirty years of social change.
1972: Advertising in a time of crisis
The Renault 5 was an offbeat vehicle. Designed from its launch in 1972 for young people keen to break with the past: it was very much a product of the May 1968 demonstrations. The Renault 5 played on its bright colours to get itself noticed and this was reflected in the advertising, which focused on the car’s friendly, appealing looks and replaced the headlamps with big blue eyes. The “5” became a character in its own right, presented on TV in a joyous brightly coloured comic strip with a mischievous tone: “I am the Renault 5. In the city and on the road, they call me Supercar”. Following the oil shock, however, its other main advantage became the fuel economy of the GTL version (4.5l / 100 km). The Renault 5 became an anti-crisis vehicle expressing the social transition: its synthetic bumpers made it ideal for urban driving and awkward parking. At the same time, the customer base became younger (25% of owners under 30 at the moment of purchase) with a larger proportion of women (31%).
In the 1970s, the Renault line-up included a vehicle for every budget, from the city car (Renault 4 and 5) to the executive saloon (Renault 16) via a vehicle for the mid-range budget (Renault 6), alongside LCVs, trucks and tractors. With a range designed to meet every need, the brand played a real social role in the marketing of products tailored to all.
In the 1970s/1980s, Renault opted for innovation in the shape of the turbocharger. Based on a patent filed by Louis Renault in 1902, this development made its debut in endurance racing at the Le Mans 24-hour event and then on the Formula 1 track, where Renault vehicles proudly sported yellow, the brand’s emblematic colour. With the success of these vehicles, Renault transferred this technology to the road, particularly with the 5 Turbo. This constant quest for speed was echoed in TV advertising campaigns, with the Renault 9 and 11 putting on a burst of speed to save a truck with failed brakes, and the Renault 21 Turbo being chased down a German motorway by the Polizei, who stop the driver before letting him go.
1984: Renault, cars for living
Des voitures à vivre (cars for living) is the emblematic Renault slogan from the 1980s and the one that best reflects the brand’s thinking across the decades. The slogan was developed by Publicis and launched with the “Tranches de vie” (slices of life) film, to the backing of “Johnny and Mary” by Robert Palmer. This song could be heard in various forms in most Renault campaigns through to the 1990s. Des voitures à vivre further established Renault’s ability to reflect the needs and aspirations of men, women and families: from the Renault 16 to Twingo, via Espace, the first MPV, Renault is present alongside French men and women, at every moment in their lives.
A specialist in small cars, Renault renewed the genre in the early 1990s with Twingo and Clio. A small one-box vehicle with round, cheery features, Twingo encouraged customers to “invent a lifestyle to go with the car”, while Clio brought the qualities of upmarket vehicles within everybody’s reach, showing that “size matters”. At the same time, its price tag made it affordable on any budget. A few years later, Renault went public. This gave the company an opportunity to communicate on the almost physical ties between the brand and its customers. In 1997, Renault launched a celebrated campaign with the slogan “ça ne marchera jamais” (it will never work), aimed at the sceptics who remained unconvinced by the brand’s bold moves. To celebrate its success in Formula 1, Renault showed its mechanics in the guise of gangsters: after six world championship titles, “it’s not a sporting record, it’s a hold-up!”
Humour and a bold, creative approach are the hallmark of advertising at Renault. By taking risks and challenging received ideas through its campaigns, Renault can demonstrate the safety of brand models, with a ballet of cars crashing into each other for example, or maybe refer to the cultural and social realities of French people through blended families or gay marriage, or celebrate a break in the wall… of sound with its emblematic electric vehicle, the silent ZOE.
2015: Renault – Passion for life
In 2010, Renault adopted a new design strategy, starting with the concept car DeZir, a declaration of love for cars. Renault’s design renewal, based on a life cycle concept, took practical shape in 2012 with the launch of New Clio, a vehDesicle of sensual forms with Flame Red bodywork to revive the flame burning in the hearts of car fans everywhere. Following the launches of Captur, New Twingo and New Espace, it is time for Renault to support the renewal of the brand with a new advertising slogan: “Passion for life” and, more specifically for France “La vie, avec passion”. With this signature, Renault remains loyal to the values expressed by “cars for living”. “Passion for life” is a tribute to life, lived to the full, vibrant and exciting, warm and creative, bold and free, because people are at the heart of Renault’s DNA.
Renault has also decided to deploy a new tagline to support its promotional offers: the French Touch. Embodied by the actor Nicolas Carpentier, this series of films plays on received ideas, cultural stereotypes and humour. Sometimes featuring popular celebrities such as judoka Teddy Riner or basketball player Tony Parker, the “French Touch” adverts convey the image of a familiar brand that is close to people and understands them.
In 2015, Renault called on an international icon, actor Kevin Spacey, hero of “House of Cards”. At the wheel of New Espace, the man who spends his life playing other people, from a father going through a mid-life crisis to the President of the US via a disreputable crook… he can at last play his own role and enjoy the passing of time at the wheel of his Espace… Another original way to celebrate life, once more with passion!