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Inside Renault’s LGBT+ inclusive ads: ‘We never want to play it safe creatively’

Renault's 'The French Exchange' ad tells a love-story that spans 30 years

Renault's 'The French Exchange' campaign might be over two years old now, but it just can’t stop winning awards. Fresh off the back of scoring a British LGBT+ Award for the best brand campaign, last month the work also won gold at The British Arrows 2021. Today, The Drum catches up with Renault's brand director Adam Wood and Publicis•Poke creative director Colin Byrne to discuss its legacy and why Renault doesn't just want to be another car brand that plays it safe when it comes to creativity.

A bittersweet story of a three-decade romance, when Renualt's'The French Exchange' arrived in 2019 it offered a raw depiction of what it's like to fall in love with your childhood friend, with the added complications of it being same-sex.

It was an instant hit. Praised for its authentic depiction of a lesbian love story that spans a lifetime yet didn’t feel clichéd – it also coincided with the car brand celebrating 30 years of its Clio hatchback model. It was both pitch-perfect and made you want to buy a Renault at the same time.

“The most important thing for us is that we always show a diverse representation of our customer base,” explains brand director Adam Wood on Renault's mission to push boundaries in the car category. “All brands have a responsibility to act in a way that shapes society in a positive way. We have a role to play in evolving perceptions.”

There has historically been a lack of queer representation in mainstream media and advertising. According to a 2019 report from Channel 4, people from the LGBT+ community feature in just 3% of the adverts in the survey, despite making up at least 6% of the UK population. With one in six Gen Z adults now identifying as LGBT+, representation efforts must dramatically improve in order to keep up with a rapidly changing society.

Renault and its long-term ad agency Publicis see themselves as LGBT+ allies. As far back as 2003, 'Gay Cop' sent pulses racing, while in 2010 it was delivered an ad ban for its provocative Twingo spot. This was followed by 'Gay Marriage' in 2012 — an ad that featured a surprise wedding between two men.

“We are acutely aware that the last thing we want to do is something that conforms and plays safe. We don't want to create something that just looks like a car ad,” insists Colin Byrne, creative director at Publicis•Poke, who worked closely with Wood on The French Exchange. “Things are changing and Clio has accelerated that change.”

“We've always been a brand that likes to disrupt the status quo. To be brave and not conform to the car category,” Wood adds. “We don't want to produce unremarkable and derivative work.”

“Times have changed,” the tagline reads. “Twingo, too” concluded the gay marriage ad - a technique Renault has mastered over the years, using society's progression as a metaphor to talk about its cars improving.

“The challenge we faced with The French Exchange was how to make sure we got the right balance. The ad has to deliver in terms of product exposure, alongside a narrative that is clearly an analogy for the Clio progressing through time,” explains Wood.

“We are acutely aware of diversity and inclusion,” says Byrne. To hit the right chord, Byrne relays the importance of ensuring diversity is considered at every part of the process.

“Make sure representation is at every stage, both in terms of hires, right the way through idea generation. It should be a representation of society - an accurate depiction.”

Woods adds that seeking diverse feedback is also important. Throughout the work, the team worked alongside Égalité - Publicis Groupe's employee network for LGBT+ professionals and allies who helped to guide it.

“The biggest test of this ad was is it authentic - is it a believable love story? There was nothing tokenistic about it at all. It was a believable, heartfelt story and that’s why it got the emotional reaction that we wanted.”

“We want to continue depicting diversity as much as possible – it’s an ongoing legacy that will continue on a global scale," he says, confirming that more diverse, considered work is on the way in the future.