Swallow it, Mitch!

Open your mouth.

The mouth has been a central element of our beliefs, for ages. If you have been to Rome, you might even remember having seen tourists stuffing their hand in an open-mouthed stone face which is said to keep liars stuck. I personally did not try my luck, after all, I am working in advertising... Too dangerous.

Bocca della verita Bocca dela Verita, Rome - Italy

Anyway, the mouth is key as many customs demonstrate it. Primal tribes were convinced that they would acquire their enemies' strength by ingesting their organs. Toreros are offered some "pieces" of the vigorous bulls they killed in the arena to increase their virility and courage...

My name is Bud, Dr. Taste Bud

There is a less-bloody version of these convictions. A more modern too. It consists in considering that you can influence your health through you food. In French, we call such products "alicaments" which is the combination of "aliments" and "médicaments" (food and medicine, or nutraceuticals). Eat this yogurt and you will decrease your risks of stroke. Drink that juice and your blood pressure will stabilize. Swallow this pill and your tanned skin will resplend...

Functional food becomes a massive trend in nutritional research, and consequently in marketing. But the idea to process food to optimise their intrinsic nutritional properties raises also some debates about genetically modified organism... Overall this trend is at its early stage, and consequently their are many grey areas around it. What are the implication on the longer term for instance?

So how to surf on this remunerating trend, whilst remaining cautious... Well, my favourite retail store, Tesco, has found the solution. After promoting some deviant sexual practices or perverting our children, they are now entering in the nutraceutical arena, but with loads of caution... And that leads to that king of packaging non-sense:

"Goji Berries. A source of vitamin C which may help maintain a healthy immune system"

Buy and eat this, it you may, or may not, get better. But in any case, buy it: it will definitely make us better off!


Smile my brother. Smile.

This blog is usually focusing on cultural differences. Most of the time I shade some light on cultural facts that make me laugh or at least amaze me. But for once, this post will celebrate cultural commonalities.

For a change.

If you have been reading this blog with attention for a while, you know Flavien, a friend of mine who decided a year ago to quit his job as a salesman to ride a bike from Paris to Jerusalem (first article here, the second here). Well, Flavien is about to pedal again. This time, his journey will start from the Holy City of Jerusalem and he will close the loop he initiated in 2006: he is about to cycle from Israel to France from the Southern side of the Mediterranean sea.

Flavien at his arrival in Jerusalem, the destination of his first trip, the departure of his next oneHis earlier trip in the Middle East remains a vivid memory in Flavien's mind. The few conversations we had since, be it over the phone, on MSN or in person, are all consistent. Flavien has a true passion for Jerusalem, without being really able to put words on it. So instead he puts pictures on it... This led him to offer me the art book which inspired this post. The book of the eponymic Face2Face project is what British people would call a coffee table book, but it gives you more than coffee to brew. It make you think.

Portrait their resemblances.
JR, the photographer, and Marco, the scientist, both authors of this extravagant adventure as they qualify it, have introduced their book in such a brilliant way that I don't dare changing a word:

When we met in 2005, we decided to go together in the Middle-East to figure out why Palestinians and Israelis couldn't find a way to get along together. We then traveled across the Israeli and Palestinian cities without speaking much. Just looking to this world with amazement. This holy place for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This tiny area where you can see mountains, sea, deserts and lakes, love and hate, hope and despair embedded together.

After a week, we had a conclusion with the same words: these people look the same; they speak almost the same language, like twin brothers raised in different families. A religious covered woman has her twin sister on the other side. A farmer, a taxi driver, a teacher, has his twin brother in front of him. And he his endlessly fighting with him.

It's obvious, but they don't see that. We must put them face to face. They will realize. We want that, at last, everyone laughs and thinks when he sees the portrait of the other and his own portrait. The Face2Face project is to make portraits of Palestinians and Israelis doing the same job and to post them face to face, in huge formats, in unavoidable places, on the Israeli and the Palestinian sides.
In a very sensitive context, we need to be clear. We are in favor of a solution for which two countries, Israel and Palestine would live peacefully within safe and internationally recognized borders.

All the bilateral peace projects (Clinton/Taba, Ayalon/Nussibeh, Geneva Accords) are converging in the same direction. We can be optimistic. We hope that this project will contribute to a better understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. Today, "Face to face" is necessary. Within a few years, we will come back for "Hand in hand".

This book is the embodiment of a wise, ambitious, and totally unofficial initiative that deserved to be better known. So, I am glad to spread the word. Be it Shalom, Salaam or Peace. You can buy their book and some posters here. And trust me it is totally worth it. And because images are worth a thousand words, here is a a video about this project, that will certainly finish to convince you:

FACE 2 FACE trailer by JR and Marco
submitted by 28millimetres


Who wears panties?

Return on experience

If you are a regular reader of this blog, or even if you know me personally, you are certainly well aware that I recently got married. This major change in my matrimonial status is also a fantastic opportunity to exchange with other people, other cultures, on a very intimate topic. It is also a source of cultural differences.

Girls want to know all about the bride's dress and her hair style, boys prefer to share the discovery of the bride at her father's arm. The French want to know the menu, the English the location. Some inquire about our choice of texts for the celebration. Others want to know the first dance and whether we learned the three steps of waltz... But the most interesting inquiries came from our friends in Canada: they wanted to know if my wife will keep her maiden name.

Gender-neutral society

This question is indeed critical over there. As a matter of fact, Canada is not only the first nation of Hockey as you can have learned here, it is also a country where the disparities between the two genders have completely been eradicated. Everything is now set so that men are not privileged for obscure reasons like this is unfortunately still the case around here. And obviously neither are women.
This is quite puzzling for foreigners. For instance, forget the courtesy rules that are the basics of French etiquette: in Montreal, a man should not hold the door for a woman, that could be considered as breech in local manners. So you can probably imagine what the most feminist of our friends felt when she received her third door in the face... She actually started to miss the good old traditions!

Anyway, back to our wedding story: why should a girl lose her name when she gets married? It could be perceived as a sign of allegiance to her husband... And as a result, many Canadian women keep their maiden name when a ring is slot at their finger. Do I need to mention that it is a true nightmare for genealogists, especially when you know that the children tend to follow the same norms: the son would have the father's name, while the daughter would be named after her mother. So brothers and sisters might not share the same name!!!

Tradition and rules

In France, there is rule and tradition. The later is that the bride takes the groom's name. However this is not the law, which is in fact not restricted to the tradition. Probably motivated by the same philosophy as in Canada, the French regulation is quite flexible, even more than in Quebec. In France, a bride is allowed to take her husband's name, to retain her maiden name, to associate both... And the husband can do the same. So he could choose to be named after the maiden name of his wife.
To be honest, I have not met anyone who had opted for the last option. Consequently I assume that the main reaction would be surprise. In France, and I think in the UK too, we have an idiom that says "he/she wears the pants in the family" in order to identify who rules the household. In fact, in that specific instance, the word "culotte" that we use in French for "pants" is an old word that translates nowadays in "panties". Call me a sexist, but I imagine that if the husband was to drop his name for his wife's, people would probably claim he has let the ownership of the panties to the lady of the house... However when you know how appealing and disconcerting a bride's lingerie could be, you could probably forgive him, couldn't you?

An advert for Aubade lingerie part of a long-lasting campaign named "the Lessons of Seduction". This is lesson #57: "distract the opponent". Quite efficient, isn't it? More lessons here.


Hello, Good bye.

This could have been a tribute to the Beatles... But it is simply a farewell to a train station that has witnessed so many Anglo-French reunification and ruptures. Farewell Waterloo. Hello St Pancras...


Becoming an advertising reference

A month ago I lectured at a French University about advertising. My ambition was to share my passion about this profession while killing some myths... I was glad to see in the eyes of my students (I love writing that) the same sparkle that I had at their age (I hate writing that, dammit).

We discussed at length the elements that make a good ad, trying to identify the key factor of success of a campaign: innovation, engagement, integration... However, I now realise that I did not refer to how great ads are rewarded for their success. I am not talking about the dusty trophies decorating agency halls, but about evidences that an ad has truly cut through to be adopted and endorsed by the entire society.

Advertising break.

So when can you tell that an ad is a success? Probably when it manages to get out of the advertising space and blend in our daily life. A French example comes instantly to my mind: Cadum. Cadum is a soap brand created in 1907 and later acquired by Colgate. Its brand icon was a baby, the "Bébé Cadum", whose skin was obviously soft, healthy, etc... Thanks to the packaging and the advertising, the expression "Bébé Cadum" became such a norm that you could almost no longer dissociate both words. A nice toddler was de facto a Baby Cadum, as a giant was... green. The word "Baby" was in a sense totally branded. A branding that lasted beyond the product...

As gentle as the skin of Baby CadumAs a matter of fact the brand disappeared more or less in the 80s but one thing remained... Its usage as a substantive. Back then, although they had never been in contact with the product or the brand, toddlers were shouting at each other: "You are a Baby Cadum!" I know this too well: I used to be one of these loud talkers in nappies... And trust me, when you were called a "Bébé Cadum" in a schoolyard, that was a call for war. The youngest were ridiculed by the older, until they can revenge the following year when they finally were no more freshmen and could rule the world, or at least the kindergarten. And so the word passed from generation to generation.

The success of humour.

There is another situation which illustrates that an ad has truly managed to become a reference: when it is spoofed. After all if other people, be it brands, humorists, film directors, copy your codes that definitely means that you have reached a certain level of awareness. Otherwise the reference would be void, would not it?

To illustrate this, I have selected three great examples of TV commercials which were spoofed by other brands, three of the most successful and awarded ads of the last years. I have displayed them so that you can enjoy the original first, and then appreciate its spoof:

  1. Sony Bravia "Balls": Fallon demonstrates the richness of the colour palette provided by the Sony LCD screens using thousands of bouncing balls thrown away in the street of San Francisco. The spoof? Tango, a British fruit drink that has been renowned for years for its madness...

  2. Honda "Cog": Wieden+Kennedy London actions all the individual elements of a car to make things work. The spoof? The Number and its 118 118 fellows.

  3. Cadburry "Gorilla": a pure moment of pleasure provided by Fallon again, just like the one provided by a Cadburry chocolate. The spoof? Wonderbra, a pure moment of pleasure, just like the one provided by the lingerie.

To become such myths, these brands have accepted to let go and not tried to control everything. Their brands have been turned into mere adjectives, their ads into jokes... But to a certain extend, these are just the signs of a great empathy between the brand and its consumers. And the empowerment of your audience becomes even more critical nowadays with the rise of the internet-based social networks. Communities have now the tools to communicate, and brands have always been a center part of discussions. So if they want to follow the pace of their consumers, brands need to accept the rules. And being hijacked could be a possibility. For some brands this is even an ambition, since it would signify that they had become a reference.


Two kiwis and a baguette

I recently posted a note on the possibilities to find French lessons even in British high street sex shops... Well, YouTube is also a great place to find such lessons.

Two Kiwis in the Big Apple

Browsing videos, I bumped into some extracts of a new
HBO TV series: Flight of the Conchords. According to the channel:
Flight of the Conchords follows the trials and tribulations of a two man, digi-folk band from New Zealand as they try to make a name for themselves in their adopted home of New York City. The band is made up of Bret McKenzie on guitar and vocals, and Jemaine Clement on guitar and vocals. Bret and Jemaine have moved to New York in the hope of forging a successful music career. So far they've managed to find a manager (whose "other" job is at the New Zealand Consulate), one fan (a married obsessive) and one friend (who owns the local pawn shop) -- but not much else.
So when two kiwis try to make their way in the US, they obviously try to develop their private life too. And they then rely on French flair in such instance...

France 0 / New Zealand -1

As you may know New Zealand and France have a very special relationship since our secret services bombed a
Greenpeace boat in Auckland harbour, killing accidentally a member of the Rainbow Warrior crew. Since this interference in local affairs, Kiwis benefit from privileged conditions when coming to France: they can stay longer than other non-EU visitors, get a temporary working permit more easily... This is what happens when guilt and diplomacy work hands in hands.

Anyway, due to this relationship, Kiwis seem to be attracted by France. Our mountains, sheeps and shores must remind them of their green pastures when they come to old Europe (not sure that the typical French Rugby player reminds them any of their Blacks though)... So to get ready for their immersion in the Hexagon, they try to learn French at school, between two Maori and sheep breeding classes. This is hardly a success for French is quite complex a language and the opportunities to practice in their country are rare now that Chirac has decided to stop the nuclear bomb tests in the Pacific Ocean. But they can usually articulate a few words and imagine mastering the language of Molière and its appeal:

I remember one of my former kiwi colleague who could actually manage only two sentences of proper French: "Je voudrais une baguette" and "Prochain arrêt, le pub" ("I'd like a baguette" and "Next stop the pub", critical to survive you may say). Every time I was coming to his desk, he was repeating them in loop adding some onomatopoeias in between to pretend he could speak French... No blame on him, we are doing exactly the same when it comes to "speaking" English (read here).

Anyway, I love Kiwis for their natural and friendly way of living. I like their country and hope to be soon able to discover the great diversity of sheepkind. I enjoy seeing the All Blacks playing rugby (even when they accept to lose against France during World Cups). And I am really looking forward to seeing the Flight of the Conchords on TV... But in France we have a idiom that says "qui aime bien, châtie bien" (whoever likes you well gives you hell, or as you say in English "spare the rod and spoil the child").


Tongue twisting

Don't touch it's SALEYou can learn from everyone...

Who could have thought that even Ann Summers' would apply this rule? Now thinking about it, no one better than a high street sex shop could teach French to the masses. I mean real French, the foreign language, not the... you dirty pervert ;-)

As a matter of fact, Ann Summers displays no dog in a black and white coat in its window, but there are usually lady apparels and toys for doggy habits. Sometimes, however, the shop becomes more prude, and decides to have more didactic an approach. This picture was indeed shot a few weeks ago in London and, as you can see, the manager decided to deliver moral anatomy classes in French: the three "key" areas of the female body are clearly labeled as "Sale" (or "dirty" in French).

Not so long ago, nuns running girl boarding schools would have appreciated this incongruous support...