French Accents in Advertising: Do They Help Sell?

Man with a French accent

Do French Accents in Advertising Help Sell?

According to a study done by Babbel magazine, the French accent is the sexiest in the world. Of those surveyed, 37% ranked the French accent highest, followed by Italian with only 19%. But do French accents help sell?

I know from experience that a French accent is pleasing to the German and American ear. I lived in Germany for more than 20 years before moving to the United States, and even though my German is impeccable, I have never lost my French accent. I have also never really attempted to, as reactions have always been very favorable.

Just yesterday, a German I met randomly told me how much she liked to hear French people speaking German. And I’m not counting the number of times I have been hit on heavily by Germans. At best, they were only too pleased to tell me how…erotic…the French accent is. At worst, they would sing the refrain from LaBelle’s “Voulez vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?” and look me right in the eyes…or at my chest. I love Germans, but they often lack finesse when they try to pick up!

Once in the United States, I discovered that Americans are very tolerant of accents and encourage any efforts made to speak English. I also discovered that the French accent, even though not as celebrated as it is in Germany, is still perceived positively. There’s no romantic allusion in the United States; Americans don’t mess around with the laws against sexual harassment!

According to a study done by Babbel magazine, the French accent is the sexiest in the world. Of those surveyed, 37% ranked the French accent highest, followed by Italian with only 19%. Babbel also asked respondents what the sexiest language was. The result: French (34%), also topped Italian at (24%).

the French accent is the sexiest in the world
The French accent is the sexiest in the world

French accents in German advertising

In an advertisement, an accent is the entire message. The idea is transfer what is associated with the accent to the brand, or even give it a personality. The advertisement for German beer Schöfferhofer, in which the voiceover whispers in a thick French accent, is unforgettable. There is no need for naughty dialogue; the female voice with the French accent is all it took to make beer sexy.

Another example, also from Germany: The Germans are crazy about Géramont, considered a rather ordinary cheese by the French palette. Since the 1990s, Géramont’s advertising has featured a pretty French woman learning German. The dialogues are simple and the images of a picnic are pleasantly romantic. And it works. To my knowledge, Géramont is the undisputed leader in its market segment!

French accents in American advertising and elsewhere

Many studies focus on accents and their perception. For many Americans, the British accent is synonymous with class and seriousness. And according to Susan Cantor, CEO of New York’s Red Peak Group: A French voiceover might convey a certain status“.

In 2014, Yoplait, a very popular brand of yogurt in American supermarkets, launched a campaign calling to mind its French heritage. Two advertisements featured a woman with a French accent promoting a product with less sugar.

Another example is the one from Nespresso featuring George Clooney and Jean Dujardin. This spot didn’t air in the United States, since Clooney had only very recently become the brand’s ambassador, however it was hugely successful in Great Britain.

What about accents in French advertising itself?

In 2010, automaker Opel ran a very unique advertisement on the French networks. Unique because the entire advertisement was in German – with French subtitles. A stereotypical German driver (a tall, blond man with clear blue eyes) sings the praises of his Opel Corsa. The advertisement concludes by claiming in French “You don’t have to speak German to understand that this Opel is a truly German automobile.” In the end, our German driver states the price, but says it in French with a slight German accent.

I applauded wholeheartedly, probably because I hold both countries’ passports, but even more because of the message’s simplicity. Opel has been a subsidiary of General Motors since 1929, and few French knew that it was a German brand. While the German language doesn’t enjoy a good reputation in France (it’s difficult to learn and pronounce), Opel rode on the reputation of German automobile excellence to promote its brand.

General Motors announced a marked improvement in sales a few months after this spot.

Do accents sell?

There is little material on the subject. But a 2014 Dutch study concluded that the accent must fit to the product. A German accent would therefore work well with cars and sausages, a French accent for cosmetics and wine, and an Italian one for pasta and pizza, etc.

It seems a bit simplistic to me. It’s always difficult to attribute advertising alone as the reason for sales. Too many other factors are involved besides the advertising, such as sales promotions, newspaper articles, viral videos and the weather, all of which go hand in hand with advertising campaigns. A good spot, even without an accent, will always make an impact. Nespresso is doing very well without Jean Dujardin; he just added a little extra for the French markets.

Renault seems to get it. A few months after the famous Opel spot in France, it replied with this parody. It worked so well that Renault rolled it out in the English, Italian and Belgian markets. Watch it until the end – it’s worth it!

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2 Comments

  • Organic faming and the concept of renewable energy were basically, if not invented in Germany, but at least first introduced on a bigger scale to Germanys national marked. If you would go back to London, Paris or NYC in the eighties, you wouldn’t find any organic vegetables, vegetarian restaurants or solar powered roof tops. But you would if you go back to West Germany. I think this has to do with the rather romantic concept of forest which is deeply rooted in German culture. And of course this leeds us back to German Romanticism of the 18th century.

    • Oh yes, I remember my first trip to Germany. It was in the 80’s, and I felt that Germans were so concerned with their environment!

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