As the iconic car brand celebrates its milestone anniversary, Citroën’s Arnaud Belloni and BETC’s Stéphane Xiberras explain how the brand shaped French society, culture and adveritsing
2019 marks Citroën’s 100th anniversary and the brand has become part of the fabric of France and, indeed, the French marketing landscape. Citroën is a brand with an out-of-the-ordinary advertising legacy. Indeed, as far back as the 1920s it was pulling audacious feats of publicity; founder André Citroën lit up the Eiffel Tower itself with the letters of his name for 11 years. The company’s car models have since also become as iconic as the tower the brand once lit up.
So this centenary is a big deal for the brand, particularly as it comes at a time when the auto industry is facing enormous disruption. Working side-by-side with its dedicated creative agency Traction (part of BETC), it is celebrating its past and future simultaneously, creating over 20 campaigns in various media to be rolled out over the course of the year, 10 of them films showing off the brand’s vision of the future.
On this anniversary, LBB’s Alex Reeves took some time to appreciate Citroën’s place in French history with Arnaud Belloni, SVP global marketing communications for Citroën and Stéphane Xiberras, CCO of BETC Paris.
LBB> What's the biggest difference between the brand of Citroën today to the Citroën of 1919?
Arnaud> In 100 years, Citroën became an international brand, sold in more than 80 countries and adding up more than 53 million cars produced since the very first Citroën Type A.
LBB> And what is it about the brand as it was back in 1919 that has endured and continues to drive it in 2019?
Arnaud> Citroën is the people’s car, positioned in the middle of the market as a popular car, in the noble sense of the word. In other words, a brand inspired by people and their lifestyles, which is also what we underline through our new signature ‘Inspired by You’. This is the DNA of the brand, ever since its creation in 1919 by André Citroën.
LBB> In your opinion, what are the most exciting moments in Citroën's brand and marketing history? Why were they so important for the brand?
Arnaud> André Citroën was a visionary man; he democratised the car for the French people. He did something that no one had done before him: he invented the first car flagship store in the ‘20s and he was also the first to make miniature toy versions of his car models. He always let technical innovation, industrial production and advertising go hand in hand and he even illuminated the Eiffel Tower with his name for 11 years!
Stéphane> I love the fact that Citroën’s founder, André Citroën, from the very start used advertising and PR in a massively spectacular way, at a time when that wasn’t so common. One could draw a parallel with Elon Musk and Tesla as they have a similar way of promoting technology through communication. Whether the example is André projecting the Citröen brand name on the Eiffel Tower in 1924 or the “cruises”: a line of expeditions organised in the ‘20s and ‘30s with Citroën cars driving stretches like Beirut-Beijing or from North- to South Africa, to demonstrate the reliability of the cars, we can recognise an approach to PR that’s at the same time spectacular and popular.
LBB> How important is Citroën to France and why?
Arnaud> The 2CV is a typical French cliché. And the DS, CX, SM, C6 are the official cars of the French presidents!
Stéphane> Culturally, the Citroën brand is associated with important times in France: the 2CV was the first real ‘people’s car’ and it launched around the same time as paid holidays began as a concept in France, before the war. The Traction Avant, symbol of the war and the post-war era (the photos from the Paris liberation are filled with Traction Avant cars). The DS, which was the symbol of the bourgeoisie’s luxury in the ‘60s. The Mehari which symbolised the beat generation in the ‘70s and at the same époque there was the SM which was the crown jewel of French technology (like the Concorde!). Basically, there is a Citroën model associated with every step of France’s modern history and that is rather unique.
LBB> And how important is being French to the brand?
Arnaud> Citroën is connected to the history of France and the French people, from students to the president. It carries the indissoluble values of the French spirit: audacity and creative genius, impertinence and capacity to be reinvented unceasingly. Citroën is part of the French ‘pop culture’!
With a large OUI, Citroën assumes and even asserts this French touch by also expressing it in a line of lifestyle products 'OUI ARE FRENCH'!
LBB> As a manufacturer with iconic design littered throughout its history, how do you feel Citroën has contributed to and influenced the world of design?
Arnaud> Citroën has always marked itself with unique designs and remarkable comfort.
It is a brand with a strong line of historic models: Traction Avant, Type H, 2CV, DS, Méhari… This is why Citroën is one of the most collected car brands in the world!
In fact, collectors from all over the world will travel to France this summer to join the ‘Rassemblement of Siècle’ (meeting of the Century) organised for July 19th-21st in La Ferté Vidame, located in Normandy, to celebrate this centenary birthday!
Today Citroën is stronger than ever - we have renewed the range since 2016 with less than six major innovations launched. The result: in 2018, we carried out a record of sales in Europe for seven years!
Stéphane> Citroën’s impact on car design is quite spectacular because the style is free, very pop (curves and colours) and very far from the German style which focuses more on comfort than pure performance. The Citroën design is both surprising and particular; it doesn’t resemble anything else. Citroën is a real ‘love-brand’ and the cars have fan clubs and collectors all over the world, from US to China and Russia.
LBB> Where is the brand now and what are its main priorities as it heads into the next 100 years?
Arnaud> Our ambition is to make using and owning a car easier and more fluid for our customers. Beyond the products, this ambition includes a single customer experience, such as with our website Citroën adviser, our new concept store ‘La Maison Citroën’ or our rental service inside the points of sale, ‘Citroën Rent&Smile’.
It is difficult to share a projection over 10 years, as things move very quickly! What is crystal clear it is that our international presence will be reinforced. We recently announced our arrival on the Indian market by the end of 2021.
We will go even further in regards of the comfort of our cars. We will share our mobility vision at VivaTech, held in Paris from 16 to 18 May 2019 : Citroën will be exhibiting two concept cars expressing its vision of urban mobility and ‘ultra comfort’. Already involved in several collaborative efforts with French start-ups, the brand will also be revealing new ideas in terms of the digital and in-car experience at the global innovation event.