'Le Robot.' the TV advertisement being used to market the new Citroen Xsara Picasso compact minivan in all European markets, fulfills all the basic requirements of a pan-European campaign.
It has no obvious national element, an absence of dialogue, a strong visual appeal - and a humor readily appreciated by any audience.
The advertisement takes place inside a Citroen factory. It portrays a rogue paint-spray robot so smitten by the appearance of the car that it starts drawing surreal Picasso-style designs in black over the roof. The robot hastily sprays over the doodles when a plant supervisor walks past, but finally signs 'Picasso' on the side of the car.
Selected after ideas were invited from six agencies, the advertisement was devised by the Euro RSCG agency and Citroen in-house executives. It cost around A750,000 to make, mainly because a dummy spray booth had to be constructed.
'Other agencies came up with good ideas but this was the best,' said Alain Favey, recently appointed to head of Citroen UK. He was formerly managing director of Citroen Denmark and Citroen Belgium.
'The advertisement has impact and it can be understood in all countries,' he said. 'All European markets will be using this film. Everyone will recognize the artwork as the sort seen in Picasso paintings.'
Citroen had to secure the agreement of the Picasso Foundation before it filmed the advertisement.
'The Foundation has to say yes or no to anything that is put into the public domain in connection with the painter,' said Favey.
'When the advertisement was seen by TV audiences on mainland Europe it was obvious that it worked well - and in France the recognition rate was particularly high,' he said.
The UK has been the last country in Europe to see 'Le Robot.' The A6 million campaign - a typical advertising spend on a new Citroen model launch - broke in the UK in the first week of June.
'But we had been talking about this car for 18 months and pre-conditioning the market,' said Favey. 'That's worth the equivalent of at least A3 million in brand-awareness advertising spend.'
Citroen has famously used supermodel Claudia Schiffer to promote its cars in previous advertisements.
'The ideas for our Claudia Schiffer advertisements came out of Germany, and not all are pan-European,' said Favey. 'She does a TV advertisement for our diesel models for Spain and Italy. She also did a crash-test advertisement in which she sat in a car during a 25kph impact. She said she had confidence in the car, but it was also the scariest thing she had ever done.'
The crash-test advertisement has been used in every European country except the UK, where images of car crashes involving humans are not allowed.
'The UK has the most restrictive advertising code in Europe,' said Favey. 'But that means the UK advertising agencies have to work much harder and more creatively, which is probably why they are so good.'
For the Italian market, Citroen has used football icon
Gianluca Vialli, former Italian star and now manager of England's Chelsea football club. The TV advertisement has Vialli arriving in Italy to be surrounded by sports reporters clamoring for soccer news - but his only intention is to go to a Citroen dealer event.
Favey said: 'The advertisement is just a gag for a single market, but again it illustrates that humor works for us in any language.'