Is France becoming the laboratory of modern marketing? Our relationship with consumption is unique, complex and profoundly influenced by our history. But it is incredibly in harmony with a revised view of the relationship between people and commerce.
Revolutionary, Bonapartist or Gaullist, our country has always believed it can blaze its own trail rather than adopting the same doctrines as the rest of the world.
Understanding this specific cultural aspect of the world's sixth-largest economy - this paradox - is key for brands that want to succeed in France.
One of the most popular topics examined by magazines in recent months has been purchasing power. Paradoxically, a survey has shown that 60 per cent of French people regard the price as secondary in their purchases. The percentage of people solely focused on the price has even dropped slightly.
French consumers buy as much as in other countries, but don't buy in the same way. We consume a lot: 90 per cent of French people hold at least one loyalty card. Household consumption increased by 2.6 per cent in 2006, higher than GDP growth, and more than in Germany, Belgium, the UK and Italy.
Furthermore, we buy the same brands as others do: McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Apple, Evian, Nike, Heineken, Mercedes.
But, unlike others, we claim a distant and critical attitude towards consumption, and even a rejection of it. We are a living paradox, the country where anti-globalisation protestors wear Nike footwear.
We do not simply want to consume products or services: we want our consumption to enhance our self-esteem.
The most symbolic example for a foreign brand is McDonald's France, which is now cited as an example at its US headquarters. While Jose Bove, a leading ecologist, was destroying the McDonald's restaurant in Millau, McDonald's France stepped up its efforts to adjust to French culture, based on three principles: social values, anti- junk-food culture and the restaurant tradition, attuning them to the style the French have come to expect. Less "fast", more "food".
This relationship with brands is being reinforced through the consumption of media and the web. We know everything about the companies behind the brands. We know who manufactures the distributor's brands, who produces the TV programmes, and we recognise the hand of BMW in the finishing touches of the Mini or under the bonnet of a Peugeot.
If we wanted to sum up how to express the French paradox, we could say: "I know you're manipulating me, but give me the illusion of control, because, ultimately, it is I, the consumer, who decides."
- Raphael De Andreis is the president of BETC Euro RSCG in Paris.