Basic Business French 11:

© 2015, Greg Lessard

About this module

In this module we will look at advertising in French. We will begin with an overview of some advertising terms and concepts. Then we will look at a number of examples to see some of the mechanisms that advertising can use to influence consumers. By the end of this module, you should be comfortable with the following things:

Goals of advertising

In this module we will look at advertising (la publicité) in French. Advertisements (des publicités, sometimes shortened to des pubs) can be found in a range of media including posters (des affiches), newspapers (les journaux), magazines (les revues), radio (la radio), television (la télévision), the internet (l'internet), and social media (les médias sociaux), as well as on products themselves.

Advertising has a number of goals, including:

Advertisements attain these goals by acting on those exposed to them. We can visualize this as follows:


The case of providing information (fournir de l'information/renseigner) is fairly straightforward. The advertiser wants the potential customer to be aware of some information (like a sale - un solde in French) in the hope that the customer will act on the information.

The case of emotional influence (influencer sur le plan émotif) is more subtle. The goal is to make a potential customer feel good or bad about some situation or about the product, in the hope that this will lead to action.

In both cases, the goal is to change the customer's behaviour (modifier le comportement du client).

Let us look at this in more detail.

Emotion versus information: some examples

In the case of identity, the goal is that when customers think about filling some need, they will think about a particular product. Many firms function in an environment in which there are many competitors (des compétiteurs) who are also seeking to sell their products, so differentiation (la différenciation) is key. At the same time, the goal is to establish the core characteristics to be associated with a product. Take the case of automobiles. The American brand Lincoln was long associated with an older demographic and with traditional values. Recently, General Motors has launched ads to counter this view, as the following example shows.

To help think about this ad, first view it at least twice, then try to answer the questions which follow it. (A written version of the French and a translation are provided after the comprehension questions.)

Source: Advertisement in French for Lincoln

Comprehension questions

  1. This is not Matthew McConaughey speaking. How would you characterize the voice that was chosen?
  2. Answer

    Among other things, sexy and and confident. These are traits the advertiser wants to have associated with the vehicle.

  3. What character trait is implied by the actions the voice describes?
  4. Answer

    Independence and self-confidence: Je conduisais une Lincoln bien avant qu'on me paie pour le faire. Je l'ai pas fait pour être cool ou pour faire passer un message. J'aime ça, c'est tout.

  5. Is there a clue in what is said that the speaker is successful? Are there any visual clues?
  6. Answer

    He was paid to do the ad, so he's in demand: Je conduisais une Lincoln bien avant qu'on me paie pour le faire.... He is well-dressed, but casual (suit, but no tie).

  7. What is the clientele (la clientèle) that the ad is aimed at?
  8. Answer

    Men who wish to project the same air of youth, strength, and attractiveness.

  9. After watching the ad, how much do we know about the car itself?
  10. Answer

    Very little, apart from what it looks like.


Je conduisais une Lincoln bien avant qu'on me paie pour le faire. Je l'ai pas fait pour être cool ou pour faire passer un message. J'aime ça, c'est tout.

We can see that the ad uses mostly devices to influence viewers on the emotional level. Little information is provided about the characteristics of the car itself. Let us compare that with the following advert, found on a web page of the company Bâtiments Pré-Fab Inc..


Examine this advertisement in detail and then answer the following comprehension questions. If you need help, a translation of the text is found below the comprehension questions.

Comprehension questions

  1. How much does this house cost? What does this tell us?
  2. Answer

    $17,000. This is inexpensive for a house and tells us that the ad is aimed at those who are trying to save money. So its goal is mostly to provide information.

  3. Is there any incentive for potential customers to act quickly?
  4. Answer

    Yes, the ad says that the sale is first come first served.

  5. What positive characteristics does the company give about itself?
  6. Answer

    It has a range of products and it is flexible.

  7. Apart from the lower price, why would someone purchase a kit like this?
  8. Answer

    Because its kit form allows for faster construction.

  9. Is there any appeal to emotion in the ad?
  10. Answer

    There is the appeal to national pride: Tous nos produits sont QUÉBÉCOIS, favorisant ainsi NOTRE ÉCONOMIE.



FROM $17,000



Bâtiment Pré-Fab Inc. is the only house dealer in Québec which offers customers prefabricated structures in wood and galvanized steel. Our range of products and our flexibility allow us to respond to the needs of our customers.

Our houses in KIT form allow you to build your own house much more quickly. All our products are QUÉBÉCOIS, which favours OUR ECONOMY.

After looking at these two ads, we can see that advertisers have several choices to make:

There is no perfect answer to these choices. Much depends on what the advertiser hopes to accomplish. To illustrate this, imagine a Lincoln ad which gave only facts about the car, or a house ad which showed Matthew McConaughey in the doorway. Would they be effective?

Humour in advertising

Many advertisements use humour. One of the reasons for this is anchored in the nature of humour itself. Much humour is built from the opposition between two states of affairs or points of view. This can come from wordplay, like puns. For example:

It can also come from anomalous situations, like slapstick humour, which does not require words, as the following Chaplin example shows:

Source: Charlie Chaplin: The Lion's Cage

One of the goals of humour is to dislodge the viewer from an accepted view and lead him or her to another perspective. Watch the following ad and then answer the comprehension questions below it.

Source: Advertisement for Le Trèfle toilet paper

Comprehension questions

  1. What is the accepted attitude that this ad is trying to dislodge?
  2. Answer

    That paper can always be replaced by electronic media.

  3. Do facial expressions play a role here?
  4. Answer

    Yes, you can see Emma's growing exasperation.

  5. Who is in a situation of power in the ad? Does this change?
  6. Answer

    Yes, in the beginning, it is the man who is giving advice, but at the end he depends on someone else for paper.

  7. Does music play a role in this ad?
  8. Answer

    Note the lyrics: ...every day it's gettin' on my nerves....

Is is also sometimes the case that humour is used to highlight some problem or injustice. Consider the following image:


Source: Midi Libre

The authors of the story note that the Aurore Association, which works to help les sans-abris, took the names of several famous brands and changed the wording slightly to remind people of the conditions that some live in. Apart from the play on words between Yves Saint Laurent and Yves Sans Logement, the ad also has a caption which recalls the fashion industry: Ayons l'élégance d'aider ceux qui n'ont rien.

So when reading an ad, you should always be sensitive to whether some humour is hidden below the surface. This is sometimes more difficult in a second language. In case of doubt, consult a native speaker.

Advertising campaigns

Advertisers sometimes repeat the same theme in various contexts. Let us explore the following example.


Source: Market Wall[u]

On the surface, this looks like a simple ad for lipstick. But the text at the bottom and the caption hide something else. Read the ad carefully and look at the image, then answer the comprehension questions below.

Comprehension questions

  1. What two things are being compared in this ad?
  2. Answer

    Renault, whose racing colours are yellow, and Ferrari, whose racing colours are red. Renault won the Formula 1 racing circuit ahead of Ferrari.

  3. What two puns does the ad contain?
  4. Answer
    • The French word for lipstick is le rouge à lèvres, and le rouge also refers to Ferrari.
    • The French word dépassé can mean 'old and outmoded', but it also means 'passed', as when one car passes another in a race.
  5. What other common objects could be used in an ad like this? Spend some time thinking about this.
  6. Answer

    Go to the site Market Wall[u] to see more examples.

  7. Ad campaigns are often international and multilingual. What phrase is used in the English language version of these ads? Check the web.
  8. Answer

    Red is dead. This plays on the rhyme, but has no pun.

As you can see, sometimes advertising involves taking a basic concept and exploring all its limits.

Reading passages

In this module, we have looked at various facets of advertising. You should now be sensitive to some of the devices that you might find. To help practice this, the two following extracts are followed by comprehension questions to test your knowledge. Study each carefully and then try to answer the questions.

  1. The first example is drawn from an ad campaign we saw earlier in the module.


    Source: Midi Libre

    Comprehension questions

    1. What is the play on words here?
    2. Answer

      Between Christian Dior and Christian Dehors.

    3. What role does PARIS play in the ad?
    4. Answer

      It reminds people that the poverty being show is happening in that city. Normally, the name of the city is a sign of elegance and fashion. This brings it back to earth.

    5. What action is hoped for?
    6. Answer

      That people will help the homeless.

    7. What means is provided?
    8. Answer

      The website of the group Aurore.

  2. We saw earlier that Micheline has the goal of increasing her lemonade business. Part of that will involve advertising. To do that, she needs to know the strengths of her product. Among other things, she is selling healthy, organic beverages. Given that, she might want to look at what others have done.

    One of the possible examples might be the Première Moisson brand. Founded in 1992 in Dorion, outside Montreal, by a mother, Liliane Colpron and her three children, it focuses on the production of breads, pastries and other goods made using high-quality, fresh ingredients. Its products are sold throughout Québec and in 2014, the Métro chain purchased a 75% share in the company.

    Here is a Première Moisson ad. Use it to design an ad for Micheline. Consider both text and graphics. There is no right answer to this question, but use what you have learned in the module.



Summing up

You should now feel comfortable with:

  1. the media in which advertising materials may be found and the terms used to describe these
  2. some of the major characteristics found in advertising materials, particularly in French
  3. the role of sound, images, text and situation in constructing a good ad
  4. the role of humour in advertising.

As in previous modules, you should remember that what we have seen here is only the first step in a complex domain. However, you should begin to have a taste of how advertising can work in French, and you should begin to be able to understand new adverts when you see them. To build upon this basic, spend time looking at and listening to French media to enrich your 'advertising vocabulary'.

We are now almost at the end of this course. In the next module, you will find a set of texts from the various areas we have studied, as well as comprehension questions about them. You should use these as a review tool to check your knowledge and as a stepping stone back to the various individual modules.