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English words in French advertising

by Cam's Writing

The English language has infiltrated French marketing

If you’re a native English speaker, you probably assume that most French marketing and advertising content is… well, in French. But if you turn on the TV, listen to the radio or look at posters anywhere in France, you might be surprised to recognise English words and phrases everywhere.

This phenomenon has been going on for years and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Some French people are seeing it as a threat. They’ve decided to fight back in order to protect the integrity of their language.

So where does this come from? Why do French marketers use English so much in all kinds of content? What can we learn from this phenomenon? And how do the French consumers react?

English words everywhere

Whether it’s “Just do it”, “Think different” or “What else?” many brands made the choice of keeping their tagline in English, even for the French market. Slogans like that are actually so common that most French people don’t see them as a use of a foreign language anymore.

Contrary to what you might think, British and American companies are not the only ones using English words and expressions. It’s a global phenomenon and even French brands have embraced this trend.

In 2015, Orangina launched a campaign called “Shake the world”. In 2019, for Evian, it was “Live young”. Both taglines were created in English. Every year since 2018 major retailers participate in an online event called the “French Days” – France’s version of Black Friday. Even the very French brand of clothing and underwear Le Slip Français sells products “made in France” – not “fabriqués en France”.

How some are trying to fight back

In France, a minority of people see the omnipresence of English words in advertising as an invasion and even a threat to the French language and culture. Several associations have been created to fight this phenomenon and defend the language of Molière. Some of these groups, such as the association “Défense de la Langue Française”, are actually pretty virulent. They see their cause as extremely important.

The French government is also committed to protect the language. Implemented in 1994, the Toubon Law forces companies to use French in their marketing communications or at least to translate their messages into French. Translations must be as clear and easily understandable as the message in a foreign language. This law is still in force nowadays and any company caught breaching the rules can be brought to court and face a significant fine. Thankfully, there are some exceptions. Trademarks and brand names for example don’t need to be translated.

But why is it such a strong trend?

English words and phrases in advertising offers more possibilities for play on words and more ways to trigger ideas and emotions. It gives an impression of modernity and gives a multicultural dimension to the brands which use them.

The English language already has a strong presence in French media, in the professional language and, for young people, in their everyday life. The Internet and social media have obviously influenced this phenomenon. Some French people read, watch or listen to content in English on a daily basis. Whether it’s music, film and TV series or even news articles, the English language is present in French people’s life. Marketing and advertising are just adapting to the evolution of the language.

It’s quite interesting to note that most English words and phrases used in French marketing wouldn’t sound correct to a native English speaker. In TV ads or on the radio, words are pronounced with a strong French accent. Sometimes they’re even Frenchified. For example, the verb “to chill” becomes “chiller”. French people have appropriated them.

To translate or not to translate

So when it comes to advertising and marketing content, what’s the best choice? Can you use English words or should you stick to French? Well, it depends. As long as the law is respected, we think including English expressions can be a good thing, if it works for your target audience. This trend is still growing and it’s here to stay. It’s part of the natural evolution of the language in a globalised society. Older generations might struggle with English – or any other foreign language – because they don’t understand it. But if you’re addressing Millennials or younger people, who have grown up learning English through the media and the Internet, why not talk their language?

At Cam’s Writing, we work in English as much as in French. While we know both languages perfectly, our main strength is our strong knowledge of the French and the British markets.
When it comes to English words or phrases, the question isn’t always how to translate them but sometimes if translating them is really necessary.
If you’d like to know more about our agency and the services we offer, contact us today.