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This same-sex love story would never happen in America . . . because it’s a car ad

Renault swings for the dramatic fences in its U.K. commercial to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Clio model. Why aren’t more ads this bold?

This same-sex love story would never happen in America . . . because it’s a car ad

Okay, honest question: If it wasn’t for the headline above, how long would it have taken you to guess this was a car ad? A minute? More? How about a minute and 52 seconds? That’s when the imagery starts to feel super familiar, like we’ve seen in millions of car ads, millions of times.

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The rest of it? Not so much.

It’s a remarkable feat, if a questionable marketing tactic, to rely on story so heavily that the brand has zero presence until the very end. But what’s striking about this spot, created by agency Publicis.Poke and directed by Frederic Planchon, is how it uses the elements of the most tear-jerky, saccharine love story ads—familiar to fans of the Spanish lottery or French supermarkets—and spins an unexpected twist: a completely normalized same-sex relationship, one that goes beyond a happy-go-lucky montage showing all variations of the modern family. This is a straight-up love story.

In a car ad.

Can you imagine Ford or Chevy running this ad or anything like it in the States?

It’s a coming-of-age story, where a young British girl meets a young French girl on some sort of school or summer exchange program. They become close friends, then as they grow older, much closer. Kind of like a Euro version of The Wonder Years, except this time Kevin is a girl who ends up leaving her husband for Winnie in the end.

And they drive a Renault Clio.

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What’s normalized here is that there’s no real part of it that screams, “Hey, check out the very progressive same-sexness of all this.” (The one exception may be a brief scene where the British girl’s dad seems to be less than happy about what he’s read in the girls’ private correspondence.) It’s just a maybe overly dramatic car ad. The slowed-down version of “Wonderwall” really pushes things to the edge.

Carmakers have featured flashes of same-sex couples in their advertising for awhile—a quiet moment here for Volvo, a drag queen there for Ford in Australia, a big happy gay family for Toyota in Israel here, Chevy celebrating all types of families there for the 2014 Winter Olympics. But rarely do marketers, particularly those in a category like automotive, slow things down long enough to see these people as anything more than a postcard. In a polarized culture, broad consumer product brands tend to shy away from making anything more than token gestures, afraid to draw a response like the one Cheerios received in 2013 when it nonchalantly featured an interracial family in an ad.

Say what you want about the actual quality of the Renault ad as a sales tool for an actual car, the spot could still be the poster child for ad industry initiatives like the Unstereotype Alliance. Launched at Cannes Lions in 2017 by the UN and such corporate marketers as Unilever, Google, Microsoft, Mars, and more, it calls for an end to stereotypical portrayals of gender in advertising. It also follows Deutsch president Kim Getty’s advice around incorporating more diverse gender depictions in ads: “The next time you’re writing or looking at a script, consider what would happen if you changed the name from Jack to Julie. Does the story still work?”

More marketers need to heed this advice. When we talk about representation and diversity in advertising, too much is ticking a checklist box, while too little is telling real human stories. Renault admirably aimed for the latter here, while also managing to nab an immediate nomination for the Subway Award for Most Unexpectedly and Slightly Jarring Dramatic Ad.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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