The World: Insider's View - France

Alasdhair Macgregor Hastie looks at the virtues of the French creatives' way of thinking and the challenges of being a foreigner among them.

I'll say this up front and it's not a common sentiment; I love the French. Not like, but love.

I love the emptiness of regions such as the Auvergne. I love Paris. I love Parisians. I love the way they dress. I love the way the French enjoy life. I love the way they never finish a word (d'ac, mat, pres, Saint Trop, Macdo).

I find the way the French hijack other nations' geniuses and turn them into Frenchmen and women admirable. And that way they have of saying something without saying it so that if you didn't know they were being bitchy you'd think they were paying a compliment - something the English do but with nowhere near as much elegance.

I chose to work here. And I love my office, in (speaking of hijacked foreigners) Chopin's old house in the 9th arrondissement. I live around the corner from Les Deux Magots, where the world's great and good take pastis on the terrasse and watch Paris parade by.

You can spend a happy two hours there, people-watching. Cheaper than the cinema and, for the most part, more fun.

However, I have to admit that I faced the move to Paris with trepidation. I'm in the ideas business and this is the world capital of l'idee.

Many have been world changing - liberty, equality, fraternity, photography, the pencil and reinforced concrete. (Although a lot of great French ideas are, undeniably, total bollocks. The 35-hour week. Poodles. The United Nations.)

So when creatives here think, they think big, which is fantastic. Especially if the client has a huge production budget and limitless media spend.

The great French campaigns of the past and the present are not too easily missed. Yet they are very French about their advertising.

Years ago, I wrote the launch campaign for a major car manufacturer here and did it out of Italy. The ads and the commercial were all over the TV in France, but no-one acknowledged its existence in "L'hexagone". No PR, no awards entries. It just wasn't French.

You see, the French are totally aware of one absolute truth. That they are French and you are not. You see, you can't get away from it. So when a team of creatives challenges you with an idea, they aren't testing your ability to be a creative director, they're testing your ability to be French.

There's no problem canning their ideas, but it's about how you can the idea. So you start with the phrase: "You know guys, unfortunately I'm not French, so I might be missing something fundamental here, but ..."

And if you do kill the ad, it'll only be folded into a drawer for later use. After all, an idea is an idea. Especially if it's French.

- Alasdhair Macgregor Hastie is the international creative director at Lowe Strateus in Paris.

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