Defining the ingredients that go into French advertising.

yoluyla Mark Tungate , Adforum

Does The French Touch in advertising exist? Let’s hope so, since we’re about to devote a whole series of interviews and features to it. But if it exists, then what exactly is it? As we spoke to people, a number of factors emerged.


An artisanal approach

As you’ll see from some of the content here, one of the most popular responses is “craft”. French ad makers want their work to look as good as it possibly can. “Quick and dirty” solutions are relatively rare, they tell us.

Chris Garbutt, Global Chief Creative Officer of TBWA Worldwide, former creative director of the network’s Paris agency, spoke of a “depth of thought” in French advertising. (He also recalled a meeting that lasted seven hours, but we’ll talk about that later.)


Perhaps this focus on quality should not come as a surprise. France – and Paris in particular – is the home of luxury brands. And of course luxury advertising. You only have to look at print work for Dior and Louis Vuitton or films for Cartier to see the reverence for quality. So it’s logical that this exigency has spilled over to other, less obvious sectors: look at the various campaigns for Air France by BETC, to give just one example.


(Surprising) self-deprecation

The French may have a reputation for arrogance elsewhere in the world, but on their home turf they are able to laugh at their own icons: you may remember Karl Lagerfeld dressed in a fluorescent yellow vest for La Sécurité Routière. This must be the only country where a fashion designer for a luxury brand is also a household name.


The art of digital

French agencies were quick to embrace digital technology, but typically they brought a dash of art to it. Don’t forget that, as well as the luxury industry, France is home to some of the world’s greatest makers of video games. The work of Sid Lee Paris for Ubisoft has helped to put this skill under the spotlight. Assassin’s Creed, c’est nous.


Creativity through conflict

Another popular reply to “The French Touch” question is more about attitude. French creatives who’ve worked in the United States all remarked on how well-organized it seemed. How smoothly the meetings seem to flow.

In France, they told us, there is more debate, more dissent. See for example the comments of Emmanuel Lallevé, ECD of Ogilvy Paris.

Andréa Stillacci, Founder, President and CCO of the Herezie group, also spoke of an “intellectual exchange” that can provoke overlong meetings (although he added that they are even more tortuous in his native Italy). 

The general approach to working life is more improvised. As Frédéric Bonn, the French ECD of New York agency ICrossing, says, the creative process can be messy, and French creatives are more likely to thrive on the mess. From chaos comes ideas.


Humour as rebellion

The French love of debate and opposition also shines through in the country’s humour. Some of the funniest moments in French spots are borne of a spirit that we might call “revolutionary”.

Here’s a classic for Canal +. A bearskin rug who thinks he’s a film director throws a pile of papers in the air during a meeting. He yells: “I don’t give a SHIIIIT!” We all fall about laughing. But the bear is strangely believable and the spot is superbly crafted.



That’s it – right there: The French Touch.