She was dark and exotic looking, a major woman in advertising in Paris. And that was her response to an advertising idea. “It doesn’t make me dream.”
Had we been in America, her counterpart would have said: “I don’t think it’s on strategy,” or “I think it’s too generic,” or “It doesn’t communicate natural ingredients clearly enough,” or “I like it, but I don’t think you’ll ever get it past the client,“ or “I don’t think it’s in the brand personality.”
But in Paris, all the president of a major agency said was: “It doesn’t make me dream.”
In this comment is all you need to know about the difference between France and America. Truth in Advertising means you learn the truth of a culture by studying its advertising.
French culture, and the French psyche, revere the ideal, relish the theoretical and have a passionate love affair with philosophic absolutes. Facts are a bit downscale. Reality, a messy inconvenience. The famous quip about the French mind goes like this: “Sure, it works in practice, but I’m afraid it just doesn’t work in theory.”
It is the idea of the product rather than the product itself. An Air France commercial portrays sexy models sleeping on cloud pillows. (Not a gleaming plane or price from Newark to St. Louis in sight.) In a Paco Rabanne spot, a man and woman twirl slowly in the air having, well, sexual intercourse.
Hardheaded, repressed Protestant-Ethic America, on the other hand, is precisely the opposite. Just the facts ma’am, both in court and in commercials. Don’t give me some theory. I’m a practical guy. Don’t bore me with prissy intellectualizing or that effeminate stylishness. That’s way too…French.
You could never foist a George Bush on a country (aside from some handy intervention by the Supreme Court) unless you had a streak of anti-intellectualism and anti-sophistication a mile wide and 3000 miles long. From that ex-president’s tortured attempts to speak English, to the simply tortured Humphrey Bogart, to the don’t- say-much-but-shoot-when-I have-to Clint Eastwood, the dry, anti-intellectual, facts-only American archetype has ruled ever since the day the Puritans landed and made up a country from scratch.
Selling is second nature to the competitive, individualistic, rational Anglo Saxon mind. And America is one big sponsored universe. From the sides of buildings, to the screens of elevators, to the bodies of athletes, to the products placed judiciously in the frame of major movies, hardly an inch of real estate is free from some form of sponsorship opportunity.
France is different. With a left-wing soul and an idealistic DNA, they have always had a complicated relationship with money, and a positively hostile one to selling. Commercials weren’t even allowed on French TV until 1968.
And then, it has always been illegal to denigrate your competitor in advertising. And it has always been illegal to give out a phone number and instruct viewers to CALL NOW! Sacre bleu! How do you run a country that way?
Here’s how. President NIcolas Sarkozy just reversed forty years of sex, wit, poetry and elaborate digital effects known as French advertising, and banned all commercials from four French TV stations during the evening hours.
The country that deep in its soul believes it invented human freedom just can’t seem to lose its distaste for manipulation in the realm of commerce. The stores aren’t even open Sundays, the day Americans devote to their religious observance: shopping.
But don’t get me wrong. America believes in the Rights of Man, too.
That’s an HBO series, right? I think I saw an ad for it.