Why so serious: French advertising
More and more American audiences are getting used to something that has happened in French movie theaters for some years now: advertising that has nothing to do with movies, but is cinematic (and often quite serious) in scope. The challenge is that it’s hard not to laugh at any of these pleas for you to buy stuff. Sometimes it’s just so over the top. As I’m often the only one laughing when this stuff comes on I try to laugh quietly so as not to be the obvious American who finds it ridiculous. Take, for example this ad for Dior starring Johnny Depp, which plays on all the mysterious and bad-boy tropes that the French love.
Depp manages to be Captain Jack Sparrow while fearing and loathing Las Vegas. Oh, yes, and I’m supposed to want Dior after all this dark mystery. Is this aimed at me or the ladies?
But, Dior has a diverse portfolio, and for the vampire types who like Led Zeppelin, you can watch Robert Pattinson:
Dior is playing the “get the girl” card that you normally associate with these male cologne ads. Along with this, it’s now the mode to use English in your ads. Witness this hilarity in which an advertisement designed for the French marketplace ends with a subtitle for the English catchphrase at the end of it.
Diesel ups the “get the girl” ante with Thor’s brother, Chris Hemsworth, in this ad:
Yes, buying cologne is now an act of bravery.
I understand I’ve only been focusing on the obvious (yes, Stephen we get that the French are into their cologne). But, coffee is also a pretty serious thing in La France. Check out this ad for Carte Noire, a supplier of off-brand capsules for the Nespresso machines (Americans know “Keurig” as the single-serve coffee machine, but no one knows what a Keurig is here, but everyone knows Nespresso). Keep in mind that Carte Noire is not even a Nespresso brand, it’s just a knock-off, and this is the length that they go to in order to get us to buy their coffee:
When I was first in France the famous (now long past) campaign of George Clooney for Nespresso was part of my introductory French language class, as it featured some simple subtitled text for us to translate and practice. I found the campaign to be funny, intelligent, and perfect for Nespresso. Unlike the other commercials I’ve shown so far, the series that Clooney did was all about poking fun at himself — he always thinks the women know who he is (and desperately want him), but they are always interested solely in the coffee:
For the record, this is my favorite one:
It introduced an expression that’s part of pop vernacular now. Clooney says, “What else?” and in French this translates to “Quoi d’autre?” and you can use this expression in situations and almost everyone knows what you are alluding to (the expression, as it’s equivalent in English, obviously stands alone apart from this ad, but the intelligence of the writers was in co-opting it).
So there’s cologne and coffee, and I’ll end my amusement today (and hopefully yours as well) with this ad for a famous French ice cream company, Magnum:
The French take this seriously. So, promise me not to laugh too hard when you watch it with them. :-)
Stephen Heiner is a writer and entrepreneur living in Paris, France. If you like what he wrote here and want to see more, click on his Patreon page, and if you feel like it, drop some coins in his tip jar. Also, since this is Medium, please click “recommend” if this post contributed to your intellectual life or feel free to respond with major disagreements. He’s looking forward to engaging with you.