The French "je ne sais quoi" which is so intriguing, is this ability to reinvent what we already have, daring to break free from the traditional.
There are two ways of talking about France: a pessimistic way, talking about the decline of French influence and a more optimistic way that speaks of an economic and artistic renaissance. Many critics think that our country will continue to lose its greatness. Yet France now has a real opportunity to export its cultural model and to reaffirm itself on the international stage. Some brands have already understood this and are capitalising on French values, which they make their own and remodel with creativity and audacity.
Since 1945, the United States has been the most powerful country on earth. From TV shows to Hollywood movies, from chewing gum to burgers, from Starbucks to Apple, the western world hasn't been able to keep its eyes off this super power of unmatched soft power. So what about France? A culture that is stuck between the desire to find its place in a globalised world and the will to position itself as a bulwark against the export of a culture of (over) consumption.
By the end of the 1990s until the 2009 financial crisis, the notion of the American Dream was beginning to crumble. Since then, western consumers have been increasingly challenging the cultural and economic model of the United States. Out with processed industrial foods, smooth super heroes and happy endings or indeed shopping malls, these vestiges of over-the-top consumerist habits, and in with simple food straight from the farm, bold, quirky antiheroes and outdoor malls inspired by "the high street". Consumers are in search of meaning. Major international trends have brought to the fore a return to authenticity, to the value of know-how and to reconnecting with humans and their emotions. It is now quality that takes precedence over quantity. A philosophy much more deeply rooted in Europe than in the New World and for which France has always been one of the greatest champions.
As well as luxury goods, fashion and gastronomy, sectors that have long supported our economy, this new situation represents a real opportunity for France to impose its cultural model, its vision of the world and therefore to build its attractiveness. France already boasts a wealth of positive images (the Eiffel Tower, Versailles, the baguette, Amélie Poulain and Edith Piaf, etc.). But this does not constitute a national narrative and does not take into account the evolution of society (French or international). Hence the need to define the ingredients of Brand France and its contemporary imagery.
Whilst working as a consultant on Marque France (Brand France), Philippe Lentschener, former head of Publicis and McCann France, tried to define France's economic narrative as "an historical economic narrative that is recognised and shared" just like the American Dream for the US or Germany's "Deutsche Qualitat". Three core values have emerged that define "Brand France": (1) Passion as a love of creation and expertise, or the ability to "theorise its methods of creation and production to the point of making them into a culture in their own right ", as is the case of the perfumer or the winemaker; (2) Vision, which reflects the desire to give meaning. Beyond just selling a product, France adds meaning and sells a whole environment to go with it; (3) Creation is born of surprise or that critical spirit and boldness that are so French and that give rise to unexpected groundbreaking inventions. These are three salient features of the Brand France image, which resonate with current macro-trends and which can, above all, come to life in all sectors.
France is therefore about much more than just the excellence of its craftsmanship, its traditional lifestyle and its beautiful urban neighbourhoods. Jalil Lespert's promotional video clip "Paris Je T'Aime" was strongly criticised when it was broadcast in September 2016, because it was judged to have shown a Paris that is too smooth, stereotypical and museum-like. Indeed, this film shows a very incomplete vision of France: a France without an edge, without surprise and therefore devoid of its true character. Our country is rich in its ability to combine passion for traditional know-how with the creative genius to reinvent it. Our international attractiveness comes from this unique combination, halfway between heritage and modernity. Many French success stories have known how to take advantage of this.
Hermès, one of the most influential luxury brands in the world, brilliantly uses the three pillars identified by Philippe Lentschener. For each of its historic crafts, there is individual know-how (each bag is created by a single craftsman), a poetic, magical and exciting universe bound into the journey and reinvention using its lightness of touch and adoption of digital media in equal measure.
Of course, building a business model and communication strategy based on the characteristic pillars of French culture is not just reserved for luxury brands. It is also the case for premium brands or at least those that claim to offer quality products or services. Air France also highlights this incredible capacity for reinvention with its new "France is in the Air" campaign, which propels us into a universe halfway between a classical and a quasi-futuristic modern day. Le Slip Français has also made nerdy briefs fashionable again by boasting their 100% Made in France craftsmanship and by adopting a cheeky and playful attitude. Finally, the Paul Bocuse Institute, a culinary and hospitality industry training school, by using a new visual identity, has been able to rejuvenate a prestigious image that had been lacking in modernity. The new positioning of the Institute with, "your imagination surpasses excellence", reveals the versatility and creativity hidden behind the name of one of the greats of gastronomy.
The strong potential of a cultural and economic model is also judged by its ability to be borrowed by other cultures. From Obamacare to the anti-Trump demonstrations, it seems that Americans are acquiring a taste for a form of socialism and for a very French spirit of protest. When Japanese employees are invited by the government on "Premium Friday" to leave the office at 3pm, it is undeniable that our way of life has (directly or indirectly) made its way into mindsets. Tartine Bakery in San Francisco adopts the rules of the French bakery, without claiming its origin since its two managers are American. It is when France is deprived of its culture that it best makes its way into mindsets.
The French "je ne sais quoi" which is so intriguing, is this ability to reinvent what we already have, daring to break free from the traditional. It is in the interest of French brands to capitalise on the values championed by our nation in order to be able to export internationally. We can embody the choice of quality, of dreams and of audacity. It is in reconnecting with its very essence that France will manage to continue to shine on the world stage.
This article written by Mélanie Rauscher, Brand Strategist at CBA Paris, echoes our last design project for the Institut Paul Bocuse, a symbol of the French excellence in the World. This project embodies both the French traditional values and the will to innovate.
Copyright © Feras Sobeh
Also published in INfluencia