Author

By Hannah Bowler | Journalist

June 21, 2022 | 5 min read

Renault’s ’Papa, Nicole’ was a classic from the 90s. Last week, the French car marque brought the campaign back – with a twist. The agency behind its resurrection tells The Drum how it trod the tricky path of getting it back on screens without annoying its biggest fans.

The original ’Papa, Nicole’ campaign, which ran from 1996 to 2000, was set in Provence, France. The ads ran in series, telling the story over multiple spots of Nicole gaining freedom from her father by driving around in her Clio. The work helped Renault sell 300,000 Clios over seven years.

30 years later, Renault commissioned the original agency, Publicis, to launch its 100% electric Megane E-Tech with a campaign that would resurrect Papa and Nicole.

Rob Butcher, creative director at Publicis.Poke, says the brief was loaded with pressure. “The hallmark of a classic ad is that it’s owned by the people. But when it has taken a place in culture, when you then try to do something new, people hate it.”

The campaign joins a long list of attempts at reinventing ads with a sustainable twist, like Yellow Pages’ ‘JR Hartley’ that got a 90s trance update, Lego’s relaunched ‘Kipper’ and Ikea’s revamped ‘Lamp’.

“Ads come back all the time, with varying degrees of success,” Butcher jokes. “It’s hard to make people happy”.

Butcher says he knew the agency needed to make it “intentionally different in tone”. The way to do this, he says, was to quit trying to think of a new storyline for Papa and Nicole.

The latest marketing news and insights straight to your inbox.

Get the best of The Drum by choosing from a series of great email briefings, whether that’s daily news, weekly recaps or deep dives into media or creativity.

Sign up

“Some ads can move away from being a brand story to be a cultural story, so people care about what happens to the people in the originals and they care about the narrative,” Butcher explains. People have their own idea of what they want the next part of the story to be, he says – “and that’s often at odds with the marketer’s vision”. By telling an original true story, it would take “a lot of the weight” off creating a fabricated one.

This also meant Publicis.Poke took the decision not to consult with the original creative team: “This needed to be different and needed to take a different path.“

In their research, Butcher and his team dug into the office of national statistics and discovered there were 7,000 Nicoles born between 1996 and 2000. The year the ad debuted, the name rose from outside the top 100 to be the 36th most popular name for newborn girls. It then stayed in the top 40 for the rest of the 90s.

A group of researchers took on the tricky task of finding Nicole’s born in this era. They initially generated a list of 300, which was whittled down to 40.

Publicis.Poke then tapped Toby Dye, the director of the Heineken ad ‘World’s Apart’, to direct and RSA Films to produce. Dye’s crew then interviewed all 40 on their lives and their relationships with their fathers.

The final three Nicoles were picked based on their stories complimenting each other while giving a spectrum of experiences.

The resulting work is five-minutes long with a 30-second cut-down and is shot documentary style, telling the story of female independence and the fathers who named them.

How to balance the old with the new

’Papa, Nicole’ had two defining “crown jewels” to its story, says Butcher – the audio and the dialogue. The audio is Johnny & Mary, by Robert Palmer, and the dialogue is simply ‘Papa, Nicole’.

Butcher says he had to “wrestle” with how to incorporate them in the new ad. The worry was that it could quickly take audiences out of a documentary-style story and into a fabricated marketing story. “We had to be really gentle with that.”

Butcher's team found their way through this challenge in production, led by the stories from the Nicoles and their fathers. It was a “delicate” process of using the music and dialogue to help the spot, but if at any point they “overstepped the mark it was really clear in the edit”.

Unlike the typical creative process, filming documentary-style meant ideas didn’t “fully form” until the agency had sat down and shot with the cast.

It was integral for the ad to be as natural and unscripted as possible and Butcher says their stories were already compelling and that the fondness for one another came across without prompt. “The whole thing would have fallen flat on its face if the hand of the copywriter encroached on that moment of the creative process,“ he says.

"We always want people to like the work we do, but you feel it so much more intensely when it’s work people are familiar with.“

Creativity Brand

More from Creativity

View all