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French advertising breaking traditional language rules

This Economist blog puts an everyday French reality into perspective for those new to advertising in this country. As I work in PR, I think the strategy here is easy to remember catch phrases combined with a desire by companies to speak this generation’s social language. It makes sense, but it is sometimes hard on the ears for those accustomed to the beauty and poetic nature of traditional French. I know franglais (a mix of English and French) certainly is being more accepted but still irks and even irritates staunch supporters of la langue française.

Sep 22nd 2010, 15:33 by S.P. | PARIS

SPOTTED this morning on an advertising hoarding in the Paris metro: the most extravagant mix of phoneticised French and franglais I have yet come across. It was an ad for Keljob (quel job), a recruitment agency, promising “le speed recrutement” and “des ateliers coaching” (atelier meaning workshop in French).

The number of French firms using phonetic spelling is proliferating. Alongside Keljob there is Kiloutou (qui loue tout, or who rents everything), a machinery-rental company, or Kelcoo (quel cout, or what price), a price-comparison internet service. Then there is Meetic (mythique) an online dating site, Sajoo (ça joue, or it’s playing), a web gambling site, and Amagiz (à ma guise, in my own way), an insurer. The phonetic shorthand of text-messaging in French—kdo for cadeau (present) and so forth—has certainly helped to overturn the traditional rules of the language, particularly for companies whose brand is all about upending conventions.

The intrusion of franglais into French advertising also continues apace. Examples that spring to mind include Livret BforBank, Crédit Agricole’s new online private bank, or Freebox, the digital television decoder from Free, a French telecoms firm. Many companies simply splash a slogan in English on their ads, and then translate it in small print on the bottom as is required by French law.

What makes Keljob’s ad stand out is the brazen mix of all of the above. The French have a body whose job it is to defend the purity of the French language. Article 24 of the statutes of the Académie Française state that “The principal function of the Académie is to work, with all possible care and diligence, to give clear rules to our language and to render it pure, eloquent and capable of treating arts and science.” While the académiciens toil away, the creatives of the French advertising world seem to be busy throwing out their rules with abandon.

  1. Muriel
    September 23rd, 2010 at 18:11 | #1

    So funny and irritating as well 🙂 I’m French and have lived abroad for about 20 years, speaking French at home with UK children proved difficult, as I now dream in English (as well as work in English, in communications)! Anyway, I do get irritated by the Freebox and the likes taking over the French language, but can’t help smiling-out-loud (ha ha) when gender is imposing its own law: gameboy is feminine and the slogan “il a free il a tout compris” makes you wonder about gender equality (why “he’s got free, he’s got it”)
    So, keep smiling 🙂 cé too bon

    • September 23rd, 2010 at 19:15 | #2

      Hi Muriel,

      Thanks for interesting and humorous comment, it’s true you never know with gender. That’s why English is less troublesome 😉 Merci for lire-ing.

  2. September 28th, 2010 at 09:02 | #3

    I think that French will remain rich in meaning, history and linguistics nuances, even if sometimes English will make its way into advertising and everyday speak: It’s a sign of globalization.

    But people are increasingly saying things like:
    • ‘challenge’ instead of “défi’,
    • ‘marketing’ and “management’ in business,
    • ‘globalization’ increasingly more than ‘mondialisation’
    • For Facebook: ‘j’ai liké’, “j’ai taggé ta photo”, “j’ai écrit sur ton wall”, ‘je vais te poker’, all using familiar Facebook vocabulary

    Among my French friends and coworkers and in wider society, I notice that English seems to have a stylistic, chique and cool feel to it; those who throw English into an ad are thus playing to this, to be “in”, and therefore you’ll see bars and stores with English in the names, or places of interest like a chain called l’Indiana. I think the cross-cultural exchange will continue but not that the languages will mix so much that they are indistinguishable. Quite the contrary. Each language adds something to another. About 25% of American English has French roots and we commonly use expressions like “entrepreneur’, ‘laissez-faire”, “carte blanche”, ‘plat du jour’ that make the language more interesting and sometimes help to express ideas that could not be explained as clearly using English vocabulary. Cheers, Michael

  1. September 23rd, 2010 at 15:56 | #1
  2. September 24th, 2010 at 02:13 | #2
  3. October 14th, 2010 at 08:44 | #3

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