Theme: Advertising – Ceci N’est Pas Une Poire

In 1976, Renault launched a car which set the template for the mid-sized hatchback which became the default choice of households, if not the world over, at least in Europe…

This is not a pear.

The ill-advised press campaign that soon followed, however, made a fool of their customers – and of the rest of the motor industry. Building on the success of the R4 and R16, and just like the R5 a few years before it, the R14 offered maximum interior space for passengers and their luggage in a compact footprint, draped in modern, unostentatious bodywork.

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Renault’s executive must have felt reasonably confident about the potential of their latest model, and they first shared the good news in the form of a campaign that revolved around two key ideas: the fiscal classification of the car (‘7CV’) and happiness (‘bonheur’), which were illustrated with weirdly twee depictions of families on pastoral outings. Like Socialist Realism – with ponies!

Pony out
Pony in…

The caption (above) reads something like this: “Happiness in a car is forgetting that you’re driving. At the wheel, happiness comes from an accumulation of details: if the seat belt reels in and out like a joy, it’s a good start. If all the suitcases fit in the boot effortlessly, happiness is within reach. And if windscreen and windows are wide, happiness is also visual perception”.

It is highly unlikely however that the campaign captured the imagination of the working and middle-classes it sought to seduce. Soon after, ‘la Régie’, as it was then known, approved a more radical approach to get its message across.

Unavoidably, the motoring press (and in fairness, the public at large – but what would they know?) saw it merely as a clumsy attempt to compare the car with a fruit (in this case a pear, narrow at one end, plump and wide at the other), and whatever positive connotations it may carry – ‘A pear is comfortable’ proclaimed Renault at its most puzzling.

7. Poire inside
Today this could be seen as a barely disguised tribute to Surrealist manifesto and the works of René Magritte, albeit in a slightly confused attempt at ‘overthrowing the oppressive rationalism of bourgeois society’. Or maybe Jean-Paul Sartre, perched on an oil barrel outside the factory only a few years prior, would have given the campaign his existentialist seal of approval…

But for the man on the street, no doubt aided by a reactionary press still reeling from the outcome of the events of 1968, the owner of a R14 was nothing but a ‘gullible fool’, or ‘poire‘ in the common French vernacular.

Veg box and basket case

Photo credits:, and many more

Author: Laurent aka Sam the Eagle

French curmudgeon

9 thoughts on “Theme: Advertising – Ceci N’est Pas Une Poire”

  1. That´s a lovely set of advertising spreads. Might I ask where the 1974 VW Golf features in the history of 5 door hatchbacks? It seems to be same concept as the R14: five doors and medium sized with FWD. Given the long lead times in the motor industry then, it was likely that both cars were under development at about the same time; but surely it´s not outrageous to ask did Wolfsburg not get there first?
    I do rather like the translations and the way French thought saturates the advertising text. It has its own logic but also a kind of poetry that English lacks. I am thinking here of the one with horse head jutting out of the side window.

    1. The Golf beat the R14 to market by about 2 years, but it was a fair bit smaller than the Renault 14 – too small for a family of four and their luggage, and remained that way until the MkIII Golf. Hence my assertion about the R14 setting the template, or at least getting closer to it. But credit rarely goes where it’s due.

  2. I had a look at the dimensions. The Golf Mk1 was 3.7 m long, while the R14 was 4.02 m long.
    I think your argument is that the R14 was an attempt to improve the package of vehicles in the Kadett/304 class, which were saloons.
    I picked cars that were in production during the time of the Renault 14s development.

    Austin 1300 – 3.7 m long
    Golf Mk1 – 3.7 m long
    MkII Toyota Corolla – 3.9 m long
    Opel Kadett – 4.1 m long
    Peugeot 304 – 4.1 m long
    Renault 14 – 4.02 m long
    Ford Escort – 4.04 m long
    Fiat 124 was – 4.04 m long

    It seems that the size classes blur somewhat. Looking back we *think* of the Golf as a Focus competitor and assume that means the first Golf was an Escort competitor. But the Escort was 30 cm bigger than the Golf. Golf buyers weren´t looking at Escorts, were they?

    Didn´t they make the Golf a bit too small? And hasn´t the Focus gone down in the world compared to where the Escort was in 1971?

    With this data I come to the conclusion that Renault´s real first was to offer a hatchback in the upper medium family car sector with the R16; the Golf took this idea to the small car sector and R14 used this package on the smaller saloon class. In some sense, you´re right: the Golf has garnered laurels for a rather modest achievement: taking Renault´s hatchback idea and applying it to smallish cars. By the same token, the R14´s achievements aren´t perhaps as groundbreaking as you are suggesting. But! The credit still lies with Renault who had the hatchback idea first and also had the idea to take it to the Kadett/Peugeot 304 class. Renault – 2, VW – 1.

    1. I would suggest the dimension that would perhaps prove most telling would be wheelbase length.

  3. Nowadays an advertising faux pas like that would lose you the account faster than you could say; “But the metrics backed the execution!” Yet despite this and other howlers over the years, Renault have remained mystifyingly faithful to Publicis Groupe. I remember the 14, if not the advertising, which I’m not sure we got across the Irish sea. My recollection of it was disappointment at its appearance, coming on the heels of the R5. Actually, it was merely the nose that appeared somewhat bland – the overall form was if anything, ahead of its time – a possible reason the car buying public failed to respond to it. It also lacked the chic of its smaller brother. Another problem was the lack of engine choice, given the fact that the Douvrin 4 was a whiny nail of a power unit. The later 1360 engine was a good deal better, but even in 1982, when my father test-drove one, the incessant gear whine put him off. The fact that they more or less replaced it with the dreadfully conservative, but strong-selling R9 probably tells you everything you need to know about the buying public.

  4. It seems a long time since I have seen a 14, but I feel that time has been kind to it. Or to put it another way, Mercedes use of a downward curving window line and sculpted side panelling makes the 14 look elegant in comparison.

    The advertising seems to aspire to the classic US VW Beetle ads I mentioned in a previous piece by being quirky yet emphasising the practical aspects. But taking the piss out of your own design is something you should do well or not at all and the ‘pear’ connection was not a good idea at all.

  5. Well I obviously wrote that opening sentence hoping to get a reaction and I’m not disappointed.
    Was the R14 groundbreaking? Maybe not, but it excelled at one thing which was exceptional load space, and that happened to be the clincher for my folks who owned not one (first was a hand-me-down from my grandfather) but two of these during my childhood (the second was bought new – the last time my folks ever bought a French car). And as much as I disliked this car back then, boot-space is now one of my pet subjects, and that probably isn’t a coincidence.

    As for the odd advertising campaign, it is often quoted on French websites as the main reason for the car’s lack of success, which is clearly overstating the influence of the ad men and Renault didn’t them need to ruin the chances of one of their smartest designs at the time. The styling was divisive but back then there were enough loyal customers for each of the big three native manufacturers, and the Renault faithful were probably keen to show those Citroënists that they weren’t afraid of being a bit left-field and quirky too.

    Shoddy build quality (rust was rife particularly on early models, but that was a problem widely shared across all brands) likely kept the target audience away from their local dealers, and that terrible engine mentioned by Eóin – which incidentally was thought to be a Peugeot engine as it was first seen (and mostly heard) in the 104 yet, as it was manufactured by La Française de Mécanique, was very much a joint, poor effort by PSA and Renault – were the 14’s downfall and directly contributed to the success of the VW Golf in the years that followed.

  6. I’ve been drawn here by today’s Archie Vicar road test. It’s such a shame that rust and a poor drivetrain killed such an imaginative car. Incidentally, nobody has commented on the 14’s real advertising breakthrough: referencing a website – in 1976!!!

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