Special Report: Marketing in Quebec: Study measures comprehension of ads: Bilingual francophones and anglophones understand English ads equally well

A new study suggests that when it comes to television advertising in Quebec, the oft-mentioned language barrier may in fact be a small one.For years now, there has been discussion within the industry about the effectiveness of English-language advertising among bilingual...

A new study suggests that when it comes to television advertising in Quebec, the oft-mentioned language barrier may in fact be a small one.

For years now, there has been discussion within the industry about the effectiveness of English-language advertising among bilingual francophones.

Earlier this year, Publicite MBS in Montreal set out to get some hard data on this question.

They found remarkable similarities between francophones and anglophones in their comprehension and appreciation of English commercials.

The study, which was conducted in March by Montreal-based research firm crop, involved 92 randomly-selected bilingual francophones and 40 anglophones.

Respondents were shown a series of eight 30-sec. television spots, three of which had never been aired in Quebec.

Afterward, they completed a questionnaire that focused on their appreciation and comprehension of the commercials, as well as the persuasiveness of the messages.

Rene Dery, media and research director for mbs, says both international and local commercials were used.

‘We wanted people to think about how these spots are created,’ he explains. ‘Do they like local commitment in ads or do they like a wider scope?’

The Conseil des Directeurs Medias du Quebec commissioned a similar study in 1985.

‘We wanted to see what the results of this one were compared to one conducted 11 years ago,’ Dery says.

The findings were strikingly similar, although today’s bilingual francophone audience is more media-savvy, and has access to a wider range of television programming.

After viewing the commercials, respondents elaborated on their responses in a group discussion.

Appreciation rates were similar for both francophones and anglophones, suggesting that there are some parallels in their preferences regarding creative.

When discussion centered on specific spots, bilingual francophones appeared more enthusiastic and entertained by them – particularly those with an element of humor.

Anglophones were more critical of the commercials.

‘Some anglophones commented that in one ad it was obvious a spokesperson was trying to sell something,’ says Dery, ‘while the bilingual francophones responded by saying the ad was credible, interesting and informative.’

Despite differing perspectives on the commercials, comprehension rates were almost identical.

Whether the spot used a predominantly visual approach or the spoken word, both language groups comprehended the communications objectives of the advertisers.

Overall, says Dery, the results indicated that language is a small issue with respect to the effectiveness of a television commercial.

So what does all this information mean for media planners and buyers?

Pierre Delagrave, vice-president, media and research with Cossette Communication-Marketing in Quebec City, considers studies like this valuable because they provide confirmation for what many in the industry have long been saying.

‘We want to assure clients that what we’re buying in French and English markets is useful,’ he says. ‘It helps establish a value for those ads.’

Nevertheless, Delagrave has some concerns about how bilingual francophones are actually defined for study purposes.

The mbs study used francophones who were conversant in English and who devoted a certain percentage of their tv viewing time to English programming.

‘It’s very difficult to define bilingualism,’ says Delagrave.

Maria Castrechini, media director for Groupe Everest Communication and Marketing Consultants in Montreal, says more knowledge about what bilingual francophones comprehend can help make her job easier.

The strong comprehension of English-language advertising reflects the increasing levels of bilingualism in Quebec.

But as Castrechini points out, not all advertising is created equal.

Commercials for computers or cellular phones, for example, sometimes feature technical jargon that is more difficult for bilingual francophones to fully understand.

‘You have to take into account the level of difficulty in the commercial,’ says Castrechini. ‘The more technical it is, the lower the comprehension.’

Overall, the challenge may not be in media placement, but in creative development.

Studies like this one could help marketers fashion more advertising that communicates its message effectively to both audiences, says Castrechini.

‘What I’d like to see is information from these studies used to help the creative people design commercials that can be easily transferred within the same marketplace.’