Vauxhall unveils ode to ‘Great British van drivers’ as Brexit concerns rumble

Vauxhall is launching its remodeled Vivaro range with an ode the ‘Great British van driver’ on the same day its parent company revealed a potential 1,000 UK manufacturing jobs are at risk in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The car marque’s ‘Great Britvan’ campaign celebrates the van drivers who “keep UK businesses turning and make Britain the hard-working nation it is”.

It marks a shift in tone from previous, more light-hearted creative. The McCann-made ad has taken inspiration from speeches made by famous Brits like Rudyard Kipling, Churchill and the ‘Saint Crispin's Day’ monologue from Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V and ends by saying the van "carries British business".

The push will run across TV, social and digital, with Vauxhall marketing director Patrick Fourniol telling The Drum that the marketing spend was “significant”.

However, the drive to celebrate British businesses comes the same day a spotlight was put on Vauxhall’s French parent company PSA over its own Brexit plans. Chief exectuive Carlos Tavares told the Financial Times that the car giant could end production of its flagship Astra model in Cheshire’s Ellesmere Port if Boris Johnson’s strategy makes it unprofitable.

The move could lead to the closure of the site, putting 1,000 jobs at risk and reducing the company’s UK presence to its Luton-based plant; where vans like the Vivaro are produced.

In a statement on Monday, PSA warned that the final decision on the role of the Ellesmere Port would be conditional on the "final terms of the UK's exit from the European Union". It said it had a “comprehensive 'no-deal' contingency plan” in place

'We want to talk to all Brits'

Marketing boss Fourniol pointed out that PSA has sunk £100m into its Luton base and increased production there, despite Brexit uncertainty. The new model Vivaro, which features better CO2 efficiency and increased loading capabilities, has seen the line in Luton up production to 100,000 vans a year.

However, the exec was coy when asked if the launching the campaign for the renewed model the same day the brand’s parent company issued its most explicit Brexit warning yet had made the marketing team preemptively pause for thought.

“Apart from the overall nervousness you have a business or individual [in launching something new]. There is no added nervousness in the context of this campaign,” he said.

“What happens, will happen. There was no influence [of Brexit] or positioning of this in the campaign,” he added.

PSA chief Tavares has been outspoken throughout Brexit negotiations that a no-deal’ scenario would bring “severe consequences” for British elements of the group. Despite this Fourniol said he was “not sure” if the word came up during the creative process for the ‘Great Britvan’ campaign.

“We want to talk to all Brits, irrespective of the political context or their opinions,” he explained. “The ode to the van, the drivers, the owners is an ode to all of them.

“We don’t think there is any discrimination in there. It showcases universal value; people getting up early, working hard, being part of society and doing business with professionalism and dedication. It’s a very universal campaign.”

Vauxhall isn't the only brand having to strike the balance between championing British values in its marketing and towing the corporate line. Earlier this year, British Airways unveiled a "love letter to Britain" designed to underscore how the carrier "takes the world to Britain and brings Britain to the world".

However, BA's brand promise faces being somewhat damped in the event of a no-deal Brexit; when airlines will have to show they're 50% EU-owned and controlled to retain certain flying rights in the bloc.

Breaking down silos

Year-on-year, Vauxhall (and its integrated German group Opel) have contributed to PSA delivering record financials. Last week, the group – which acquired both brands from General Motors in 2017 – revealed that revenues had hit €38.3bn (£34.2bn) as its operating margin grew to a record of 8.7%.

The Vivaro campaign will be closely monitored in the UK, with Fourniol saying the marketing push was “critical” for Vauxhall in its bid to maintain a chunk of the van market.

A former Toyota, Renault and Volkswagen marketing and sales exec, Fourniol joined Vauxhall in August 2018. Over the past twelve months, he's spent that time "breaking silos" down between the internal marketing team and the agencies it works with.

Instead of making sweeping changes to the brand's roster when he stepped into the marketing director role, Fourniol changed the way his team briefed agencies and decided to set up a new brand platform together.

"We also work more together as a team. We have one briefing for all agencies, one strategy set up together where all teams and individuals can provide the most innovative and creative solutions to a single question."

Unlike Renault though, he has no plans to bring creative and media closer together: "that's not really on the agenda," he said.

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