Should America take advertising cues from the French?

A few months ago, I visited Belgium and France. I was born and raised in that part of the world, so my trip was a mix of personal and pleasure. During my stay, I was reminded of how shocking and powerful advertising can be in Europe compared to the States.
French agencies are bold and quite fearless. They’re not afraid to use sex, violence and innuendo to broadcast their client’s uniqueness. In fact, these tactics sell products best there.

I admire the unrestraint of the French—their unbothered attitude, their love for life, art, and food—oh, how I miss the food! These attributes of the culture are translated into French consumerism.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the best advertising in the world comes from the U.S., but there’s something about French advertising that often seems more powerful and creative. I think this is because brands and agencies in the U.S. are often slowed down by the need to please everyone, in effect, stifling creativity.

Brands are less apt to take risk in the U.S. compared to France—for good reason. Maybe our society just isn’t ready for the boldness yet. Living advertising legend Luke Sullivan said, “We are culture tweakers… We ride the waves and currents of popular culture… We play in popular thought.” This couldn’t be truer. As advertising professionals, we need to tap into the mindset of our consumer and understand their wants and needs—and also their limits. We need to be great listeners and answer with advertising that speaks to them.

Okay, so back to France. I want to go over some of the great ads that I saw while I was there. These examples capture everything that’s great about French advertising—seduction, shock, drama, and entertainment; head turning images and provocative headlines tell it like it is. I hope you enjoy this collection!

The first ad I saw was at the Brussels airport. It is quite provocative… I don’t think we would ever see this at the Orlando International Airport:

I saw this commercial in France. It’s about drinking and driving. This commercial was played so many times on so many channels. Is it shocking or eye opening? Both? What would be the reaction if played on prime time here in the States?

Billboard I saw in France featuring a very famous French anorexic model:


This is an amazing and shocking ad featuring a famous model with a missing arm. The headline translates to: “Look into my eyes… I said my eyesSo that disability is no longer a handicap.”


What about this ad for United Colors of Benetton that I have seen many versions of during my trip?


French AIDS Prevention. The headline reads “Aids Makes Us Equal.” So powerful!


Could you ever imagine McDonald’s running an LGBT television commercial here in the United States? Maybe—just maybe—they’d run it in a targeted LGBT publication, but this commercial was running on prime time TV in France.

I hope you enjoyed this collection of French advertising. There’s more to come! So what do you think? Will we ever get to this high level of shock and acceptance here in the U.S.? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Written by, Carine Carmack  – BIGEYE Creative, Art Director


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