Lennon Ad Riles Fans, Causes Trouble for Citroen

Brands have long sought to associate themselves with celebrities in the hope that some of the latter’s mojo would rub off on the former. The reasoning might go that if you love William Shatner and he says he loves our cola then you should love it too! Of course, the realities of marketing and advertising make that calculation much more complex and it’s sometimes that you want to associate your brand with the emotions that celebrity stirs and that cuts both ways, often with unpredictable results.

And so it seems with a recent campaign from French automakers Citroen. In a cheeky turn on the retro craze, Citroen positions themselves as “anti-retro” and leverages some words of wisdom from a personality whose legacy is both steeped in nostalgia and forward thinking: John Lennon…sort of.
The ad includes a clip of Lennon, with a voiceover apparently provided by an actor sound-alike, that poo-poos the idea of nostalgia. “Once a thing’s been done it’s been done,” the voice says. “Looking backwards for inspiration, copying the past — how is that rock ’n’ roll? Do something of your own. Start something new.”

Citroën DS3 TV advertising – John Lennon


The problem is that Beatles fans, especially those partial to John Lennon, are incredibly protective of the Fabs’ images and use. Anything that smacks of what they perceive to be against what Lennon stood for becomes a target for their ire. You might think that having the permission of Lennon’s estate would salve the situation, but that would be forgetting who manages John Lennon’s estate: Yoko Ono, who has been (largely unfairly) painted as Lennon’s mystical overlord and responsible for the Beatles’ demise.
The whole thing has now bubbled over into a running feud—taking place in real time for the world to see via Twitter—with Ono and her son with John, Sean on one side and a vocal segment of the late Beatle’s fans on the other. There are now calls for boycotts and even a Facebook page decrying the ad.

On Twitter, Sean Ono Lennon wrote: “I realize why people are mad. But intention was not financial, was simply wanting to keep him out there in the world,” which is maybe hard to swallow given the fact that The Beatles were one of the top selling acts in the world last year with the release of the remastered catalog and Rock Band some 30+ years after they broke up. To worry about him fading into obscurity now is to worry that every iPod, radio, TV and computer will suddenly go dark this week. Lennon is everywhere.

Via Twitter one fan named “Stew” told Sean: “You and Ono have sold John out allowing Citroen to use him to sell their cars. English fans are disgusted at you both.

“John was a musical genius and stood for something worthwhile. You and your mother are a talentless pair of leeches. You’re not fit to use the surname ‘Lennon’.

“Enjoy the money…can’t buy you love!”

Ono Lennon replied, “Lennon fans don’t ATTACK his widowed family. His widow and her son. How offensive is it to REAL fans, to publicly attack his wife and child?

“It is you who show him no respect. You are speaking to his flesh and blood. You’re a ‘peasant as far as I can see.’

Calling somone a “peasant” while trying to make the case that you didn’t license you’re dead father’s image for monetary gain is maybe not the best idea, especially when the message most often associated with the late Lennon is:
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

“When dad died, it was Lennon fans who saved me with their love and support,” Ono Lennon continued. “You are not them, you are just another asshole.” The problem being that this one commenter represents the feelings of a lot, if not the majority, of John Lennon fans who find the licensing of his image to a car company distasteful. Kind of goes against the whole point of associating your brand with a beloved personality.

You say you want a revolution? Be careful who you start it with.

Originally posted on The New Ideas blog.


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