CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/FOREIGN CULTURE IN ADS - Using cultural differences in ads is a precarious line to walk, Jenny Watts writes

Advertisers have been using the idiosyncrasies of European nations for years to shift their products, and a new campaign through M%26C Saatchi for Kronenbourg 1664 continues the legacy of brands looking to use their foreign heritage to sell themselves in the UK.

Introducing the strapline, "Vive la vie Francaise", the campaign exposes the grudging respect we British apparently feel toward the French, arriving at the tongue-in-cheek verdict that we would look better, eat better and be more romantic if Napoleon had been victorious at Waterloo.

It might be a well-trodden path, but the subtle humour in the spot enables it to skirt the foreign cliche pitfall. The lager sector is renowned for particularly memorable advertising, so highlighting the brand's French heritage in an entertaining way should give it the requisite stand-out.

Playing on a nation's characteristics is a tempting, popular route, as it enables advertisers to poke affectionate, well-intentioned fun at "Johnny Foreigner".

But it can be a fine line to tread. While some brands sell themselves successfully on exploiting caricatures - such as the "Dambusters spot for Carling, or Ikea's heavy-accented Swedish frontmen - other times it can feel laboured, a criticism levelled at Grolsch's menacing Dutchmen.

However, the time constraints of a 30-second ad can force unwanted caricatures. As Andrew Cracknell, Bates UK's executive creative director, points out: "We only have about two seconds to create a character."

Faced with such limitations, distilling the essence of a nation can be hard. But Bartle Bogle Hegarty managed to make Audi seem the most German of all its up-market competitors by introducing an incomprehensible strapline, which then assumed legendary proportions.

"Vorsprung durch technik portrayed German cars as reliable, robust and high quality. John O'Keeffe, the executive creative director of BBH, says: "Nobody knows what it means, but everybody gets it. Its magic is that it sounds fantastically Germanic and the sound of technology resonates."

Bates Dorland traded on this pride in German technology to Rover's advantage with a commercial in the early 90s conducted entirely in German, but with English subtitles. In the ad one protagonist opted for a Rover over any German car.

When it comes to Gallic charm, advertisers rely on using France's sexy - rather than smutty - sophistication. Still, Kronenbourg wanting to tap our admiration for the French is a little risky, given the traditional antipathy between the neighbours. "It's always been a love/hate relationship, Gerry Moira, Publicis' executive creative director, agrees.

Nevertheless, while some brands may continue to play the old stereotypes, others make efforts to transcend the prejudices. Moira says there is a conscious decision behind Publicis' Renault Clio campaign featuring the footballer Thierry Henry to move away from outmoded French stereotypes, in favour of highlighting the ubiquitous racial diversity of modern France.

"There's a move away from Johnny Halliday and the cliches of 'Allo 'Allo to a new, funkier, urban multi-cultural France, Moira says.

Still, if anyone gets bored with cliches it may well be the Italians.

Since the warbling gondoliers extolled the delights of Cornetto, images of Mediterranean sun-kissed bliss have littered an array of Italian commercials, most recently in BBH's Olivio work.

However, O'Keeffe maintains that the Olivio work fits the nation's characteristics.

"With Olivio we've got this heritage of Italians with a zest for life and we've managed to underpin that with a proposition of living longer," O'Keeffe says.

With Olivio and Kronenbourg as two examples of brands successfully pulling off comical observations to trade on their national heritage, it seems advertising really can free itself of the clunky cliche trap.

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