Peugeot Soars With Code-Cracking Ad

Peugeot Soars With Code-Cracking Ad


Category codes aren’t all bad. In a medium where time is your scarcest commodity they let you use basic cues to very quickly orient the viewer. Roads, wheels, wind rushing through hair – it must be a car ad. It takes microseconds to establish that, and you can quickly get on with focusing on your brand and the unique products and stories it brings to the table.

But while category codes can make for an efficient use of your time, they risk losing something even more valuable: attention. Category codes are easy to process, but unlike brand assets they aren’t distinctive. The more familiar images, shots and ideas you use, the greater the risk your ad looks like all the others.

For cars this is a particular danger, as car ads tend to be especially repetitive. Notoriously, in 2018, in an early example of AI-driven advertising, Lexus fed an algorithm hundreds of car commercials and got the AI to produce a script. The resulting ad was a pile-up of cliches. It still scored higher than 70% of the car ads we’d tested at System1.

At System1 we’ve written before about the need for car ads to twist their category codes, if not break free of them entirely. At this stage in the game, a car ad which just looks and feels like another car ad is never going to get attention and emotional response.

So it’s great to see Peugeot scoring well with an ad that does exactly what it should do – play with category codes to create a car commercial with a very different vibe.

About half of Peugeot’s recent ad looks like any other car ad – a sleek car, a handsome driver, and the open road. But the other half of it moves into the realm of fantasy and visual metaphor, with images of a young woman on board a carousel, which turns out to be suspended in the sky, above the clouds. There’s no storyline – the ad simply cuts back and forth between the driver and the sky carousel, using it as a metaphor for the freedom you feel driving a Peugeot.

This simple, joyful approach means the ad scores 4-Stars, well above the automotive average. But there’s no loss of branding strength – in fact it gets Exceptional scores for both short-term Spike and for Brand Fluency. People know it’s a car ad, and a Peugeot ad, but they love that it doesn’t feel like one. As one surprised but positive viewer put it, “I thought this was an ad for Chanel!”. It’s that kind of fresh approach to category codes that offers a way to do something new in an often conservative sector.