Frenchness as a Concept

Geraldine Chew

03.08.20214 min read

Driving things forward in China: insights from our Citroen pop-up


The automotive industry in China has undergone massive changes in recent years, and brands have been finding new ways to engage consumers and drive sales. For French brand Citroen, Uniplan developed a pop-up concept that travelled to five Chinese cities. The idea was to refresh the fact that Citroen is a French brand and deeply rooted in the French culture and way of life. Looking at this project in depth helps us see how brand experience can strengthen European brands’ position in China. Here’s what we learnt.

Focus on Frenchness

When Citroen first approached us, the brand was faced with a decrease in awareness. Younger demographics in lower-tier cities were even unaware of the brand’s origin in France. This might sound extreme, but it is actually not uncommon for consumers in smaller but fast-growing cities to confuse local and foreign brands, because in China these brands take a Chinese name. We were tasked to come up with a concept to capitalise on brand equity and highlight the Frenchness of the brand. We developed a French city square concept, where we reproduced a typical downtown setting, with café terraces and boutiques, which are very identifiable as French and resonate with Chinese consumers’ idea of Frenchness. We then populated these elements with brand stories, making the pop-up experience both informative and a lot of fun.

The 'Chinoise' way of being 'Francais'

This was a key point of discussion in the creative development process. It was a very important balance between maintaining the brand’s authenticity and making it culturally relevant to the Chinese public. This thinking impressed our client and made them want to work with us.

It was a very interesting time to deliver such a brand experience to the Chinese public, in the context of the pandemic and its travel restrictions. There is a pent-up desire to experience the feeling of being abroad, and we capitalised on that. We were careful to bring out the authentic essence of Citroen, by showing its heritage in a French boutique format where consumers could explore the brand’s history while shopping for original merchandise. We also recreated a miniature version of a road inside and around the pop-up, where we offered the opportunity to test drive Citroen’s tiny urban electric drive, the Amí. The car is not yet available in China but it is already a fixture of Parisian streets. The Ami’s presence, therefore, created a connection between being in China and having an intrinsic French experience.

Authenticity wins

We saw a very good response across all five cities. Citroen was particularly happy with the attention to detail shown by our team, and we worked with them to handpick all materials down to the cobblestone flooring, in order to ensure that real French downtown look and feel. When we launched in Wuhan last December, some of Citroen’s French staff told us that the set was authentic to the point of making them feel nostalgic. They ended up spending quite a bit of time there.

From the consumer point of view, there were various experiences that were particularly popular. For example, we created an installation featuring an electric bike in an immersive multimedia setting. As visitors pedalled, they generated animated sketches of Paris as if they were cycling through an arty version of its streets. Hospitality, of course, was also very important. The aroma of coffee at our café terrace drew in the crowds easily, as did some typical French snacks, with a Chinese twist to suit the local palate. Ultimately, visitors were very entertained and wandered around the pop-up in the same way they might at a French downtown square during their foreign holidays. I guess you could say …authenticity wins.

About the Author

Geraldine Chew

Geraldine initially studied law in the UK before gaining over 16 years of experience in Asia and Europe in the Events and Exhibitions fields. She was the head of our Beijing office from 2014 to 2019 and now leads our Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and Guangzhou offices as CEO Greater China. In this time, she has helped numerous Chinese clients to boost their presence in Europe and the USA and, at the same time, has been able to develop Uniplan’s competencies in the digital arena. She not only enjoys trying out new creations in her kitchen, she is also always on the lookout for that something special for our clients Adidas, ChangAn, Google, Haier, Infiniti, MINI, Tourism Australia and Volvo, to name just a few. It’s no wonder, then, that she is a coffee aficionado, with a weakness for Flat White with a shot of Australian milk.