Dear Toronto Advertising People
It makes your life harder. It makes your deadlines tighter. It makes an already complex process even more complicated, and, to put it mildly, it’s basically a huge pain in your rear end.
IT is the French language.
Believe me when I say we completely understand where you’re coming from. You don’t speak it, you don’t use it, it takes up precious space on cereal boxes and while it may be cool in Paris, it’s not quite so rad in what we, Quebec advertisers, call ROC (rest of Canada). It’s like us having to spin a cool campaign in German. Schnitzel.
But hating it won’t make it go away.
So here are a few tips to make your life a little less miserable the next time you get a super cool brief for a national campaign. You’ve surely heard some of them before coming from Quebec ad agencies, but that’s because they work. Now, I’m not saying they’ll make everything perfect, but they might help you get through intense production weeks without losing your sanity.
Find a reliable business partner in Quebec to guide you through the French craziness. Not your third cousin who went to French immersion back in 1998 or your wife/husband who was born in Montreal and moved to TO in the 80’s. That’s not gonna cut it. You need someone, either a freelancer or an agency, who understands the Quebec market; who understands the heart and soul of La Belle Province and knows what makes Quebecers tick. You should also look for someone who’s perfectly bilingual and understands the subtleties of the English language, not to mention Anglo cultural references, in order to adapt them correctly. Once you’ve found them, actually listen to what they have to say. They’re not here to trash your concepts. They’re here to make them work.
About those brilliant concepts… some will not work in French. Period. Have you ever tried fitting a square peg into a round hole? We have. It. Doesn’t. Fit. So before you get all gung-ho and present your ideas to the client, bounce them with your trusted Quebec partner first. Most concepts will adapt smoothly. But some won’t. Ever. Instead of doing damage control afterwards, when the client is enchanted by your witty concept that unfortunately can’t be adapted in French, give your Quebec buddies a call prior to the presentation. It’ll save you from presenting a creative approach that won’t work from coast-to-coast. Not to mention a lot of heartache.
Do it well. A French version needs to be done for every national campaign – there’s no way around it. So you might as well invest the time, effort and resources to make it as awesome as the English version. Way too often, the Quebec market is filled with half-assed commercials that feature talents who don’t speak on-cam in order to cut budget, or use direct translations that reek of Grade 9 French or Google Translate. Don’t do that. Never. Please.
Picture the reverse scenario. What if French-speakers were responsible for the English version of a national campaign and the end result was filled with grammatical errors and had absolutely no connection to your reality? You’d hate everything about it. You’d hate the brand and the agency behind the work. You’d feel disrespected. But most of all, you’d be like “We soooo could’ve done a better job with this!” So before you think you can handle it on your own, think of all this. And then don’t do it.
Remember that words are longer in French. And, contrary to English, abbreviations don’t work so well in French. So don’t flip out when your script or POP comes back with longer copy. This is exactly why you need a good adaptation partner. They’ll keep the core message intact but present in a way that’s palatable for your target audience in Quebec.
Don’t go all vanilla on your audience. By trying to please everyone, you’ll end up producing a very nice ad with no edge. But as you know, “nice” won’t get you noticed. And as you also know, or at least you should, edginess works well in Quebec. We crave wit, humour and irreverence. More than that, we crave relevance. We want to connect with the storyline. So let us tell you what would take your campaign even further in our French-speaking market.
Have a great contest idea? Keep in mind that Quebec laws are different and that the Contest Ayatollahs reign over Chance-To-Win-Land. You’ll need to register with the prehistoric Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux, who only communicate by snail mail. You’ll also have to provide them with a completely different version of your rules and regs. In French. So please add a few days in your workback schedule. We just love things a little more complicated around here.
Proofread everything. Have your business partner in Quebec look at the final proofs. All of them, be it print, radio or digital. Schedule time to fix mistakes. Because there will be mistakes. There always are. Never skip this last step. It’ll save your ass.
Seems obvious enough, right? But it’s a daily struggle for Quebec advertisers, who are faced with impossible adaptation requests for concepts that haven’t been cleared for this market. French as an afterthought is not only a high source of facepalms, it’s damaging to brands. Don’t see French as a hurdle. See it as an opportunity to work with creative geniuses that will make you shine in a language other than your own. We’ve mastered French and all its constraints, we understand client expectations and we have creative minds that work wonders. Like the old sage Madonna once said, open your heart. You won’t regret it.
You want an example of how pathetic things get? Watch it right here.