The French government is starting an ad campaign this week to encourage American investors to do more business in France.
The challenges might seem daunting, particularly given the tensions between the French and American governments over the war in Iraq. But the substance and purpose of the campaign turn out to have less to do with the United States than with Europe.
The creators of the campaign did worry about the chill between President George W. Bush and President Jacques Chirac of France, which has been played out in popular culture for several years now.
The British owners of French’s mustard issued a news release last year to say, “The only thing French about French’s mustard is the name!” In October, Bush told a crowd at a campaign rally that he would never allow national security to be vetoed “by countries like France.” And “The Incredibles,” the No. 1 movie in the United States this weekend, features a mocking French villain with the nom de guerre – wait for it – Bomb Voyage.
Those events and others were not unnoticed by the creative team.
“We were very nervous about that, as you can imagine,” said Natalie Rastoin, director at the Paris office of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, part of WPP Group, which created the campaign. “Such difficult relationships were not good for the business.”
When the agency began to research attitudes among business executives, however, it turned up signs of hope. “Business people are very pragmatic,” Rastoin said. “They know when Chirac talks, it is not all the French speaking.”
On the other hand, the research turned up a set of beliefs about the French economy, workplace and workers that any campaign would have to address, said Keith Yazmir, vice president for North American marketing and communications at Invest in France, the government body behind the campaign.
“Through countless surveys and a tremendous amount of anecdotal evidence, it’s become fairly clear that there is a misperception in the marketplace regarding the French business environment,” Yazmir said.
So the agency created a campaign focused on what mattered most: positioning France as the savvy investor’s place to do business. Even though U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed France, during the debate over Iraq policy, as part of “Old Europe,” the campaign uses the theme, “The New France. Where the smart money goes.”
Ads appearing in publications like The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review and Time Global Business focus on business executives like Pasquale Pistorio, the president and chief executive of STMicroelectronics, a semiconductor company based in Geneva with significant investments in France.
The ads use a question-and-answer format to draw out the executives on France’s best qualities with questions like, “What do you think of the French worker? Be honest.”
They also point readers to a Web site, www.thenewvisitfrance.travel. In addition to a host of figures on areas like infrastructure and productivity, the site offers a “New France” screen saver.
One ad stars Sir Francis Mackay, chairman of Compass Group, a food-service provider based in Britain. The ad begins, “Sir Francis Mackay of Compass Group came to France and discovered one of Europe’s best-kept secrets: The French actually like to work.”0