—French advertisers are increasingly relying on “Frenglish” because of its “cool, trendy impact,” but Quebec needs to safeguard against its rise, says Eric Blais.—
Quebec Premier François Legault recently declared that Bill 96, an Act reinforcing and strengthening the use of French in Quebec, is required in part because “people appreciate this touch of France in North America.” In France, however, advertising includes an increasingly large touch of English.
Advertisers in many categories are fond of using English in their ads targeting French consumers. The iconic pastis brand Ricard, for example, recently ran a campaign with the headline “Born à Marseille.”
In her excellent analysis of the trend in The Local, Genevieve Mansfield quotes a professional translator: “French people see English as modern and culturally relevant. It also comes down to audience. If the target is a young, cosmopolitan person, advertisers might use English to tap into that identity. It gives a cool, trendy impact.”
These are not ads entirely in English. They’re in “Frenglish:” headlines and slogans in English, while the body copy and other elements remain in French.
Flip through French magazines like L’express, Le Figaro, or Vanity Fair France, and you will see numerous ads using English in one form or another. It has clearly become de rigueur for advertisers of luxury goods in fashion, beverage alcohol, and jewelry. But it’s not limited to high-end brands. Coca-Cola uses its global tagline “Open Happiness” in its advertising in Molière’s birthplace.
These ads use asterisks to signal that a French translation of the English text is provided in small print, usually in the margins, where readers can also at times see the name of the advertising agency that created the ad. For example, you’ll find an asterisk in ads for Louis Vuitton featuring Bradley Cooper with the slogan “Journey Beyond Time” to signal a note in the margin with the French translation: “Un voyage hors du temps.”
The asterisk isn’t an attempt to add cachet—although some advertisers have the habit of adding an asterisk even after a headline in French to signal an additional copy point that isn’t explicit in the headline. The French version is added in fine print because it’s the law.
English language marketing in France must always be accompanied by a translation in French, as per the Loi Toubon, named after Jacques Toubon, who was Minister of Culture when it was passed in 1994. The law was enacted in reaction to the increasing usage of English in advertisements and other areas in France. It mandates the use of the French language in official government publications, in all advertisements, workplaces, commercial contracts, and in some other commercial communications.
Ironically, the law also has a “Frenglish” nickname, Loi Allgood—”Allgood” being a translation of “Tout bon” (pronounced toubon).
Quebec’s Bill 96 doesn’t have a nickname, but it might once it comes into force on June 1, 2025, with fines for non-compliance ranging from $3,000 to $30,000. While the application of the law is still unclear in many areas of marketing, the guiding principle is very much clear: Evolve the requirement from the “sufficient presence of French” to the “markedly predominant presence of French.”
So, could Ricard run an ad in La Presse with “born in”? I doubt it would be accepted, even if it could be argued that French remains markedly predominant with help from the translation “Né à Marseille en 1932.” The publication also makes a concerted effort to block advertising in English, despite some programmatic ads in English that sometimes creep up due to an error in settings.
Quebec is not immune to Frenglish. Listen to conversations between so-called influencers cast for reality TV series, and you’ll hear plenty of the macaronic mixture of French and English. It’s cool. But it’s also an unfortunate touch of France in North America that’s deeply concerning for the future of the French language.
Hopefully, between the law and its common-sense application, Quebec will prevent the invasion of Frenglish ads. If it doesn’t, I will be flabergasté.