‘Twice the va va voom?’: transitivity, stereotyping and differentiation in British advertising for Renault Clio III

Paul Jobling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mobilising what Jean-Marie Floch calls the semiotic square, this 10,000-word article explores the transition from 'this thing' (the car itself) to 'that thing' (the car in the advertisement) and what the concomitant transitivity between a global brand and a national culture can entail through a close textual analysis of British television and poster publicity for the Renault Clio, and in particular for the Clio III. Organised around the ludic rheme, 'Twice the Va Va Voom', and the critical valorisation, 'French car, British designers', the advertising campaign, launched in 2005, elaborates a double-code that sets up the idea of the 'country-of-origin' as a contest, pitting Britain, in the guise of Ben, against France, in the guise of Sophie. As such, the commercial identity of the car is performatively imbricated, scene-by-scene, with cultural phenomena from both France and Britain - engineering, food, literature, and romance. Accordingly, I deal with the tension between sameness and difference in Anglo-French relations that the verbal and visual rhetoric of the publicity connotes in the context of the 'entente cordiale'. I take into account the way the ad campaign simultaneously maintains and deconstructs the cultural, social and historical stereotypes that exist on the ‘outside’, addressing sex and gender identities, white nationalism and white foreignness, and the racial blind spots of the advertisement in comparison to the preceding 'Va Va Voom' campaign, which starred the black footballer Thierry Henry. At the same time, as we observe Ben and Sophie driving their respective Clios around London and Paris in the television advertisement, and the conjunction of London and Paris signified in the poster, the city is objectified as a kind of meeting point or passage for the negotiation of new social relations and networks that enunciate the transition from political to commercial globalism in the Single European Market. This research paper was originally delivered as a keynote address for the Design History Society Annual Conference, ‘Writing Design - Process: Object: Discourse: Translation’ at the University of Hertfordshire, 3-5 September 2009.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)244-259
Number of pages16
JournalVisual Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


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