Yesterday I was listening to the radio whilst slapping paint onto a wall in my son’s future bedroom. I cannot do a boring job without a source of motivating music to cajole me into staying put for long enough to finish it, and I have never been able to listen to music without verbal participation. So after an hour of rolling the paint onto the walls, my vocal chords were very much alive, and noisily kicking the music world’s proverbial butt.
Perched on my stepladder, my paintbrush doubled up fine as a microphone. Singing along at the top of my voice to Lily Allen as I reached the middle of the last wall, my voice suddenly dried up and I found myself lip-synching as a memory of a well-known French T.V. commercial abruptly invaded my mind. A little like the high-tech computers used in NCIS to compare fingerprints, my brain had just found a disturbing match with an element stored in its files, and was flashing urgent red-alert signals. I made the connection between the commercial and the music, and stopped painting, incredulous. I slowly climbed down my ladder and wiped my hands on my designated D.I.Y jeans, where the creamy, pale-blue smears joined the festival of colours illustrating my decorating progress throughout the house.
Gingerly tapping on my computer with the ragged ends of my fingernails in a bid to keep the keys free of paint, a speedy check on Internet confirmed my suspicions. The misuse of songs in English for advertising abroad is one of the biggest linguistic and commercial no-no’s, and this example was a pure beauty. An 18 carat, grade A, diamond-encrusted collector’s item. And the company in question, a multinational chocolate producer, had made the same blooper at least twice in the last two years.
Please bear with me as I explain the set-up of this particular commercial. A career woman sporting stiletto heels and a blue suit swings out of the office block at the end of the afternoon with two colleagues. She is a slim brunette, probably in her late twenties or early thirties. She finishes her conversation with the rather non-descript male colleague, no doubt explaining the high points of the deals she had signed during the day, then loudly announces: “I have to go, I’ve got to do some shopping for dinner”.
Our superwoman promptly makes a beeline for the nearest shop, ignores all the merchandise and heads straight for the counter, blissfully unaware that she has a tall, dark and handsome French tennis player with bulging trouser seams hot on her tracks. Flashing a perfect white smile at the middle-aged, balding shop attendant, she announces that she wants the only remaining bar of chocolate on the counter. And forget that misleading smile, the lady wants it now.
The attendant starts looking shifty and replies that it “has already been reserved for someone”. He looks anxiously over her shoulder at the 6’2”, 200lb Apollo standing behind her, who rewards him with a gormless grin. “I have some delicious muffins, if you’d like one”, the assistant bleats, obviously concerned that he may be dragged through court then transformed into putty by a furious sportsman if the chocolate bar is snatched from the counter and ingurgitated by a calorie-deprived female. “No, no, that would be far too much for me”, she replies smugly. Flicking her hair, she grabs a packet of biscuits, poses and says: “Why don’t you suggest he tries these cookies instead?”
At this stage in proceedings, I hit pause and gape in silence. Step one: pretend to be high-power businesswoman, and stride out to get shopping to (presumably) feed family. Step 2: head straight for nearest source of junk food then try to make out that a chocolate muffin the size of a four year-old’s palm would fill you up till the middle of next week. Does the shop assistant really care whether or not you’re desperate for a carb shoot after your day at work?
I digress. As the French say, let’s return to our sheep, or rather, to our chocolate. On hearing that the poor anonymous person really would prefer the bar of chocolate, our perfect “career-girl-mother-wife-who-wants-to-eat-chocolate-but-not-too-much” twists her head to investigate the competition, and is greeted by the vision of sex on legs flaunting a disarming smile. She rapidly decides to take the shop assistant’s advice: she’ll share.
This is no big surprise: although I would generally rather survive on home-reared maggots and woodchip cookies than eat any form of industrially-produced chocolate, the opportunity of sharing it with a sinuous mountain of muscle who loves playing with his (tennis) balls more than my golden retriever could admittedly tempt me. I would probably ruin my chances of things going any further, though, as the sensible mum in me would inevitably take over and inform him that an apple and a high-fibre cereal bar containing dried fruits would give him a more reliable and longer-lasting source of energy, and be far better for his teeth.
Anyhow, this, ladies and gentlemen, is the point in the commercial where the music kicks in. Imagine the scene: The music fades in: it is bouncy, energetic, fresh, happy music, the kind of tempo that makes you want to do a James Brown act and get up, get out, get down and otherwise get to grips with the world and his brother: Lily Allen’s “22”. As our heroine bites into her half of the chocolate bar, blasting her system with sugar and vegetable fat, forgetting her food shopping and her waistline whilst she drowns in her hero’s puppy eyes and Colgate smile, we hear Lily happily sing the following words of wisdom:
“It’s sad but it’s true how society says her life is already over….. There’s nothing to do and there’s nothing to say….”
I chewed my lip thoughtfully. As a working mother, what’s the message I receive loud and clear? In fact, I can see two of them:
1) “Any grown woman who eats our product is a social failure”.
2) One of the following options (choose the one which suits you best): Either “Eat our chocolate, and your life is over”, or alternatively, “If you’ve got nothing left to lose, grab a Kinder Bueno, and eat a chunk with a hunk”.
This text is taken from a song describing an unhappy young woman who has put her life on hold until she had met social criteria such as being married with children before the age of thirty. The song continues to explain that she is waiting “until the man of her dreams comes along, picks her up and throws her over his shoulder”. For me, this evokes pictures of a Flintstone-style macho or a misogynous, outdated Disney Prince Charming; in my opinion, neither of these images can or should be associated with the career-woman in the advert. Incidentally, the song continues to point out that “she’s got an alright job but it’s not a career”. I’ll stop there, but I’d say that the use of this short extract seriously backfires on the image Ferrero Rocher are trying to sell to women……
So, Messieurs and Mesdames the marketing teams, my point here as a humble consumer is that using foreign music for a French advertising campaign without getting it translated first is risky business. Don’t presume that the consumer doesn’t pay attention to any music you use to sell your product, and please don’t presume that French consumers don’t at least try to understand the songs that have been force-fed to them through various other media. One day, it could save you from being the laughing stock of the commercial world.
And while I’m at it, I’ll wrap up with one last suggestion to the Ferrero Rocher powers that be: it would be a good idea to change the music on your other commercial. You know, the one that shows a generous lady on a train sharing her chocolate bar with a small boy whilst the background music happily enquires:
“Tell me, if we sleep together, would it make it any better? If we sleep together, would you be my friend for ever?”
Slightly off the mark for selling chocolate bars to children, don’t you think?