If you’ve missed Renault’s latest #pushthebutton Clio ads then you’re in for a treat, and that’s not just my opinion, the interweb is abuzz with talk of this ‘advertising’ campaign in a way that’s usually reserved for ‘proper’ content.

The film(s) were made by Scorch London’s Director, Steve Jay together with Unruly Media’s Creative Solutions team and I’m reliably informed that despite being a ‘very cold’ day, the models remained professional and in character throughout. (If you’re reading this post later in the year, it’s worth noting that temperatures in London hovered around zero degrees celsius for most of last month)

The story behind the campaign was simple; The New Clio is designed with ‘Va Va Voom’ in mind, so they conceived a prank on unsuspecting members of the public who test drove a Clio 4 fitted with a special ‘Va Va Voom’ button.

When le ‘Va Va Voom’ button is pressed the Clio’s occupants are transported from their South London street to a bustling Parisian suburb, complete with French music, fresh baguettes and the romantic scene of a kissing couple.

Then the scene gets surreal – depending on which video is being played the street is suddenly filled with either scantily-clad female dancers or their male counterparts – either way the test-drive delivers that authentic Va Va Voom feeling, before quietly transforming back as the driver returns to the Renault showroom.

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Boys versus Girls

After less than a week, the campaign is already a success having clocked up more than 3.3 million views and 78,000 social shares – which equates to a yield of 2.4 per cent – not far off the high-performing Super Bowl videos that normally lead the viral charts.

But the most interesting insight comes from looking at each video separately – ‘Girls’ refers to the video featuring scantily-clad female dancers while ‘Boys’ refers to the video featuring the bare-chested hunks.

Ad Brand Views Shares %Shares/Views
Girls Renault UK 2,753,368 56,093 2.04%
Boys Renault UK 718,607 28,358 3.95%
# Social shares data provided courtesy of Unruly Media’s Viral Video Chart. Data accurate as of 4th April, 2013.

As you can see, the ‘Girls’ have been watched more than four-times as many as the ‘Boys’, but look at those social shares – clearly the hunks merit even more discussion – purely in the interests of science of course.

Three lessons for content marketers

Beyond the pure entertainment value of these videos, there are several lessons we can draw for brands like Renault who are serious about cracking the brave new world of content marketing.

 Lesson One:  It’s not about you

Content goes viral because people make an emotional connection with the theme or message it conveys. Sadly many brands still believe they need to position their product at the centre of the conversation, but people share content because of what it says about ‘them’ not about ‘you’.

Brands like Renault succeed because they recognise the value of ‘hosting’ a positive user experience, in doing so they make it easier for people to share their content. It’s the same behaviour that makes wearing branded clothing ‘cool’ and turns the customer into a willing advocate of the brand.

 Lesson Two:  ‘Good’ content rules

Unlike conventional advertising, content has to stand on its own feet, since for it to succeed it must be transported around the interweb and work just as well on a user blog as it does on a company’s Facebook page. There really is no substitute for good quality content, forget the viral merits of ‘Charlie bit my finger’, viewers expect the best when they know a brand has the budget to entertain.

Renault made the smart decision to work with some of the best content marketing teams, people who know how to tell an engaging story and understand the hooks which lead to engagement. If story telling and social sharing is not a core strength, then find someone who knows these elements well.

 Lesson Three:  Viral engagement should be planned

During the past few years we’ve increasingly seen that viral success can be planned, and is far from the random occurrence that many believe. Unruly Media worked together with Scorch London to incorporate the behavioural triggers which they know are part of every viral success. Of course you can never guarantee the scale of such success, but you can certainly limit the chances of failure.

Advertisers talk about brand ‘recall’ (memory of a brand and their product after seeing an ad), but a more important factor is how a viewer processes what they see.

Cognitive dissonance is the term coined to describe the feeling of psychological discomfort produced by the combined presence of two conflicting thoughts – for example, when someone buys a car they’ll normally rate it higher ‘after’ the purchase than before. Dissonance theory tells us that people will usually change their beliefs to align with their actions (or vice versa).

So, if an advert (or piece of content) causes someone to share it with others, they are mimicking the same post-purchase behaviour, and will typically align their beliefs (in favour of the brand) to reduce the dissonance between this behaviour and their likely future actions.

Nearly 3.4 million people have now joined Renault’s playful test drive, which brings them one step closer to repeating the experience for real.

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