Monday, 18 July 2016


I heard Linda Jackson Citroen’s CEO on Radio 4 last week. She was asked to reflect on this car maker’s resurgence in sales - up 16% year on year. She said she thought the brand had lost its soul, that it had tried to be like the others rather than trying to be different. But that had changed. She was (she said) leading Citroen back to the glorious eccentricities of the 2CV and the DS - Maigret’s car and the limousine used by French Presidents.

Citroen was style. Citroen was sexy. Citroen was - as David Cameron put it - the future once. It had the potential to be relevant, feminine and head turning and now it’s all of those - at last.

Over 20 years ago I held a senior position in London in a French advertising agency called Euro RSCG who had the Citroen account. From a distance I watched the business constantly on the verge of being lost and then in an unbelievable kiss-and make-up over a spectacular meal between the agency’s French CEO and the CEO of Citroen a new strategy would be hatched over Chateau Latour and more mediocre advertising for mediocre cars resulted.

Citroen had not only lost it soul it had lost its senses. But it seems Linda has helped change this. And well done here because we live in a same-old world when it comes to most design.

We’ll  decline complacently as we become more alike. To succeed we need to renovate, reinvent and be distinctive.

What’s a French Carmaker that’s a bit awkward, independently spirited and characterful got to do with Brand Britain?

Caitlin Moran who usually makes me laugh more than she makes me think made me start thinking quite hard on Saturday when she wrote in the Times:

“Ostensibly we’re leaving Europe but what we’re really leaving is the High Table. We’ve made all our history. We’ve done all our innovating. We want to be smaller. Let someone else do the heavy lifting ….. I think we’re done.”

That’s why the old and the young voted so differently. The older voters are knackered by the constant demands on trying to be GREAT Britain when just being Britain would be great enough.  We may, like it or not, have voted to be a bit smaller.  But more importantly although we don’t have a plan yet we have voted to be different, less institutional, less global corporate, more awkward and less co-operative.

Finding our soul, agreeing on our reinvention and doing a Citroen on ourselves is going to take longer than the negotiation of the Brexit terms with the EU and it’s a lot more important. If we get this right (or more properly if we come to a broad consensus on what we are trying to become) things could work out well.

David Cameron used to talk about the Big Society. This is the smaller society. More John Lewis than Tesco but actually different to either.

Are we up for it?

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