OPINION: Cowen on ... Peugeot 406

There's nothing like the humble sperm to grab a viewer's attention,

especially when the tadpole-like little tyke manages to squirm free from

family planning awareness ads and pop up somewhere unexpected. It's not

a sight that you see in many consumer campaigns. And so my heartbeat

picked up when I realised, halfway through the new Peugeot 406 ad, that

I wasn't being shown some new form of fuel injection system.

On one level, a Peugeot ad would be the logical place for sperm to make

its mainstream advertising debut. After all, more babies have been born

in Peugeot spots than in any other advertising vehicle. I never thought,

though, that we'd ever get to see the birds and bees in action. The ads

have always gloried in the effects of testosterone rather than the point

of it. It's a bit like a Bond movie where we get to see the hero

rescuing damsels in distress, but the camera pans away before we get to

the really yucky bits.

There's no sign that this might change in the opening of the new 406

spot. The ad starts out in tried and tested Peugeot fashion. There's the

obligatory Heather Small soundtrack that leaves you wondering when

someone at Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper last went to a record store. There's

the black-and-white image of the kind of bloke you just know is an

absolute bastard to work for but still has the sensitivity to cry at his

daughter's wedding.

There's the series of abstract nouns such as "consideration" and

"generosity" floating around the screen.

Then, suddenly, it's sex education time.

We know that Sammy sperm is the real focus of this ad because Heather

tells us - notching her vocal up a key when he appears and acquiring a

backing rhythm. This is a big moment. It caps Peugeot's five-year

flirtation with fatherhood and begs the question why, after all this

time, is it suddenly getting down to the nitty gritty?

I suspect it's about re-establishing the link with 30-plus men forged by

1996's epic "thoughts" ad - the last time Peugeot pulled off elemental

emotion without getting cheesy. The Dairylea ratio has been rising ever

since and reached a peak with the classroom speech in this year's ad for

the 306 model. All of this time, the 406's share of the declining upper

medium sector has been shrinking. In 1997, with every man who'd ever

hung a jacket in his back seat responding to "thoughts", it was pushing

10 per cent. This year it will be down to 6 per cent, with new car

registrations struggling to get near 30,000.

Peugeot needs to cut through its own pop music formula and remind men

that it knows what makes them tick if it's to prop up demand for what is

now a fairly old model. Little Sammy is a refreshingly direct way of

doing just that. He gallantly attempts to prevent the ad floating off

into macho dreamland by reminding us what blokes are really there for.

It's the closest a Peugeot spot will get to poking fun at itself.

It's difficult to say whether this succeeds or not - mainly because

there are two versions of the new 20-second ad. In one, Sammy is just

part of a series of unconnected images. In the other, he comes in

between a confused bloke remembering to put the toilet seat down and a

sprinter crossing a finishing line. The runner feels like a Naked

Gun-style visual gag celebrating conception - and our greying hero seems

to be wryly looking back on the domestic compromises that laid the

foundations for his family.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but that way this ad feels like it's

saying something.

Otherwise it's just another reason why M-People should never reform.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Not until there's one for "middle of the road"

pop videos.

File this ad under? R for recycling.

What would the chairman's wife say? So this is why you traded in the

Merc, dear?


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