Ad Breakdown: Citroën’s 2CV Comparison

Lewis Folkard

Lewis Folkard

Suffolk-based conversion copywriter.

Citroen-2cv comparison ad

Today’s ad is from Citroën. I couldn’t find who wrote it, but I’m pretty sure it’s from the 80s.

Here it is:

Quite possibly one of the ugliest cars ever made. A true writer’s car.

And although it’s ugly to look at, it’s been advertised rather well.

Often, it’s the obscure products that give you creative leeway to build better advertising. And that’s certainly the case here. In fact, they’ve pulled out the big guns. A hardwired persuasive technique.

Likeability.

Put simply, persuasion is easier when you’re liked. It reduces friction. And tips the scales in your favour. But… the catch here is that likeability originates from the brand’s existing position in your mind. One ad might not be enough to tip the scale. Remember, everything you communicate as a brand contributes to your audience’s perception of you. So, think wisely about what you put out.

Here’s the copy so you can see it:

Before I break down the ad in more detail, read these next sections first. It’ll lay some foundations for later.

How can you be more likeable? 

There are many facets to being “likeable”, and I’ll focus on the two present in the ad:

  • Honesty
  • Humour

Be more honest

They know the car is ugly. They know the car is basic. And rather than trying to pretend it’s not, they’ve put it front and centre – cleverly utilising The Pratfall Effect.

(Just like VW have over the years with the Beetle)

Your customers know (and expect) every product to have downsides. And by framing your downside as an upside, you remove their doubts. Your prospect feels like they’re getting an honest deal and, as a result, feel better buying.

In other words, they trust you. It’s hard to like someone you don’t trust.

Be funnier

Humour not only helps pass positive emotions from the ad… to the brand… to you, but funny ads are pretty sticky too.

They create a lasting impression – quickly. And if you’re looking to increase mental availability (which I’m sure you are), that’s something you’ll want to make note of.

To quote G.K. Chesterton:

“Humor can get in under the door while seriousness is still fumbling at the handle.” 

And whilst they’re sticky ads, they’re also smart ads – humour requires some intelligence on the reader’s behalf. Especially sarcasm, which uses both the left and the right brain.

Ad Breakdown

Okay, now you’re up to speed, let me share the breakdowns of each section.

And then section 2:

And section 3…

And the final section, the punch line.

Citroën’s humour: Explained

Humour relaxes us, disarms our ‘ad barriers’ and charms you with its hidden benefit – in this case, sheer ‘basicness’.

But how do you actually become funny? How do you create it intentionally? To try and decipher what makes something funny is actually quite difficult. 

Orlando Wood, in his book “Lemon” (make sure you read it), describes humour as a disruption to a “frame of reference”. Naturally, that frame of reference will change depending on the joke. But. here, they create multiple “frames” around premium car brands and the cars individually. Think macro and micro frames.

Macro – from the sub-headlines – premium car brands

Micro – from the body text – the individual cars

In all cases, the “disruption” (the punchline) is the same. The clearly inferior, not premium Citroën.

The micro-disruption happens in each section and the macro disruption in the final section. Ultimately, you have the same joke repeated multiple times, creating one big joke.

And that’s interesting because repetition is another comedic device. 

Think, if the ‘joke’ was repeated only once (e.g. only the “Faster than a Ferrari” line) it wouldn’t be as funny. Sure, it’d put a smile on your face, but hearing it from three different angles makes it funnier.  

And it does so because the macro frame tightens as you read through. The disruption is more impactful. 

Here’s a visual demonstration of what I mean:

One final point

And then just as a little extra point, let’s remove all the humour and pretend this wasn’t a 2CV and instead something prettier.

They “borrow” credibility from well-established, already well-positioned brands. 

This is applicable to a lot of advertisers. (You see it a lot in direct mail. Y’know, the “What doctors use to fend off colds” kinda stuff.)

You can also leverage ‘The Power of Association” in your portfolio too. I touched on this in a recent LinkedIn post – it’s here if you want to see it.

And that’s everything for today. Be funnier, be more honest, and your market will love you for it.

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