Reduced budget beats adaptation

Still feeling the recession, advertisers are trying everything they can to maintain their market presence while reducing production costs.In Quebec, the alternatives are clear - either you squeeze budgets even tighter and expect creative departments to deliver more for less, or...

Still feeling the recession, advertisers are trying everything they can to maintain their market presence while reducing production costs.

In Quebec, the alternatives are clear – either you squeeze budgets even tighter and expect creative departments to deliver more for less, or you cast an eye at the English campaign, national or international, to see if it can be adapted into French.

As you can probably guess, if I have a choice, I go with the reduced budget.

The other alternative does not really call for creative input in the true sense. It can only be a pale imitation of the original.

What’s more, it is insulting – both for advertising professionals and the general public.

You have to have lived in Quebec to really understand Quebecois advertising.

You have to be aware of how strongly we are attached to things that are unique to our culture to fully appreciate that some evenings in Quebec there are actors making half the population laugh or cry.

How can even the funniest Toronto-born one-liner compete with the absurd humor of Claude Meunier?

To understand this, just take a look at Pepsi sales in Quebec over the past seven years. And, it is not an isolated case. Check the results of the McDonald’s, Caisses populaires or Air Miles tv campaigns.

A year ago, when the Air Miles program was launched in Quebec, an English commercial was translated with French voiceover and no dubbing. Strictly by the book.

The result – about 200 phone calls per day.

The product was barely known, people did not understand it yet, and overall results were disappointing.

This year, when we were asked to adapt the new made-in-Toronto Air Miles campaign, intuition said it would not work. Even the music did not sound Quebecois. Focus groups proved it.

We proposed a much more Quebecois approach. Not just in the choice of actors, but in the atmosphere, music and especially in communicating a receptivity to the product.

The Toronto campaign features actors expressing scepticism about the program even though it is now well-established.

In the French version, we see the actors’ enthusiasm grow along with their understanding of the product and, finally, their endorsement.

Whereas we had anticipated a response of 2,000 calls per day, the telephone lines were jammed with more than 11,000 calls when the spots began airing.

I can take this even further.

Quebecers cannot live surrounded by hundreds of millions of English-speaking North Americans without absorbing cultural influences.

So, undoubtedly, it would be easier for a French-speaking Montrealer to create a national campaign that works well in both cultures than for an anglophone Torontonian to come up with a viable concept for the French market.

But, there would be no benefit to the advertiser if we shot a commercial in French and dubbed it in English.

The goal of advertising is to please, to persuade. If commercials adapted from French to English are unacceptable to English-Canadians, the same applies to Quebecers, who in no way identify with their words on anglophone lips.

In 1991, I took part in the Mondial de la publicite francophone (the worldwide French advertising competition) in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and I learned that even a modest African advertising industry has its share of pride.

The French, who colonized the Ivory Coast, still have a tendency today to supply made-in-France tv commercials for major advertisers such as car and consumer goods manufacturers.

The commercials are not well-received by Ivory Coasters, even though they are in a common language and undubbed.

Small local ad agencies there, however, feel they have the best formulas for communicating with their fellow citizens.

They work with ridiculously low budgets and minimal facilities, but communicate according to their own cultural codes and symbols.

Advertisers who have opted for this approach are highly satisfied with the results.

Quebec is hardly a colony. In fact, it is an important market for major Canadian advertisers, representing one-quarter of the country’s population.

It makes good sense to let Quebecers sell to Quebecers.

Richard Leclerc is vice-president, French creative at Publicite Martin in Montreal, and is also president of the Publicite-Club de Montreal, a non-profit association for the promotion of French advertising in Quebec.