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As a way to celebrate its 100th anniversary, Citroën wanted to appease the German pronunciation of its brand—which is commonly and mispronounced as “Zitrön.” Havas Germany led the campaign of French car manufacturer Citroën in its rebranding to “Zitrön” in the German market. 

“We Germans are weirdly known for ‘Germanizing’ foreign language words until they become collective pronunciation truths. It’s a truly special relationship between the brand and the Germans,” says Havas Germany CCO and ECD Europe Eric Schoeffler.

The team responsible for the campaign, including Creative Director Tobias Rabe, Account Director Daniela Bugaj, Head of Production Nadine Baltes, and Strategic Planner Marc Thevabalan, share their thoughts about the creation, launch, and success of the Zitrön rebrand.

Tell us a little about the history of Citroën in Germany.

Daniela Bugaj: Citroën is a well-known French car brand in Germany, but it is no longer as distinctive as it used to be in the 70s and 80s. Citroën was known for their unique design and innovative technology like the “Hydropneumatic suspension”—as well as making very comfortable cars. So comfortable, Germans liked to call Citroën models “a sofa.” Despite its success and resonance with Germans during the last 20 years, Citroën’s brand sunk a bit in the sea of sameness. 

What was Citroën’s reaction when you presented the “rebranding” hoax idea? 

Bugaj: We knew from market research Citroën was very popular, but not very well remembered in Germany. After some thought, we then came back to the client with first a strategic direction and then the creative approach of a rebranding hoax. They were excited to push it further into a creative campaign. 

What was the insight that led to the campaign?

Marc Thevabalan: We Germans are bad at pronouncing foreign words—as a result, we tend to simply ‘Germanize’ words that are difficult to pronounce. That’s why most Germans say “ZITRÖN” instead of the soft French “CITROËN.” Inspired by this truly German habit, we responded in a humorous and likable way with a deep consumer understanding. That makes the idea “inspired by you,” which is Citroën’s worldwide brand message.

How did you settle on the mockumentary format for the creative?

Tobias Rabe: We wanted to keep the discussion going as long as possible—raising the question: “Is this a real rebrand or a huge gag?” We figured the format of a mockumentary would be perfect for this. Especially since the first sequence on the boat was an actual annual meeting with real salespeople who were completely unaware of the hoax. The shocked faces are real reactions! It makes the viewer wonder if the movie is pure fiction or reality. And this tension encourages the audience to watch a nearly 5-minute film. Of course, the humorous elements also help. 


What makes mockumentaries so good has so much to do with the tight writing. The writing for this campaign would not be out of place in a Hollywood sitcom writers’ room. What was it like putting the script together? Any advice for young copywriters?

Rabe: We worked on the script for almost 4 months in collaboration with a director/screenwriter who masters comedy formats. We edited and rewrote over and over again until we were satisfied. During this time, we especially listened attentively to our colleagues—and wrote the script according to the old adage “write as you speak” to keep it authentic. In addition, the parts between the jokes and dialogue were very important for us to create situational comedy: reactions, bizarre moments, laughing at the right time. Our collaborative approach, and working on the script with a non-commercial director was a crucial factor. 

The cast is also incredible. What was the casting process like?

Nadine Baltes: Each mockumentary has a truth somewhere, so casting was crucial, and we worked to find genuine people and credible characters that one could easily relate to. Their personality, their look, their way, and manner of speaking or expressing their emotions even without words all went into consideration. We gave each of our Zitrön showroom crew an individual background story because they were not just selling a product but letting us follow them in various situations. We looked for local actors and unknown, non-commercial faces. We gave them space and freedom to deliver the lines unscripted and just let them be Michael Hennes and his team in a most natural way. 

Any fun stories from the shoot?

Baltes: We were not supposed to reveal the hoax, especially when talking to any third party. So everyone had to be deadly serious and keep that up for quite a long time. Even some Havas people saw us working on Zitrön and “could NOT believe what the client wanted to do with the brand!” The actor who played Mr. Hennes even sold a car to a crew member after shooting. 

Aside from then mockumentary, how else was the hoax established?

Bugaj: The mockumentary was the center of the campaign, but we also rebranded the website and all social media channels of Citroën Germany. The mockumentary alone would not have caused people to wonder if this was serious. So, we sent a press release to the German press at the start of the campaign. The text read: “The end of an era. Learn more on our website.” The rest is history.

How was the hoax revealed and what was the general reaction from the public?

Thevabalan: We revealed the hoax only via social media. First reactions came up directly with the change of profile image and header image on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. Then we posted an animation of the logo where the typo of Citroën turned into Zitrön and added a link to the mockumentary on the website. Most of the users were asking “Are you serious?” and started a heated discussion whether this was a joke or a real thing.

Any further plans for the campaign?

Rabe: The second phase of the campaign will now focus on the correct pronunciation of Citroën in the German market. We will offer the users and fans an online contest where they can test their French language skills. Additionally, we produced funny webisodes with Nathalie Licard. She is a French TV presenter in Germany and during the French Festival she interviewed several Germans about the complexity of the French language. Both will be promoted via social media too. And, maybe, there will be another surprise in the future…

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