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Here Comes the Sun (And a Newsletter)

April 2024

This winter has been exceptionally mild, melting our white blanket of snow long before the first signs of spring. With the season’s early arrival, we’ve embraced this gentle yet fleeting in-between season to plant the spring edition of Dispatch in your inbox! When it comes to advertising, communications and culture, here’s what is worth noting (in our humble opinion).

In Québec, Comedy is Serious Business

At nine years old, I was listening to François Pérusse’s comedy album, L’Album du peuple, on my yellow (and thankfully waterproof) walkman, laughing to tears in a bedroom wallpapered with Jonathan Taylor Thomas posters. Long before Pérusse, comedy legends like Dominique Michel, Yvon Deschamps, Claude Meunier, and Michel Barrette had made their mark on the Québec comedy scene, a scene more deeply ingrained in the province’s culture than ever. It seems to be in our DNA to love comedy and to laugh. Back then, I used to wonder where we got such a strong sense of humour.

The Québécois are renowned for their joie de vivre (especially in the rest of Canada). We place great importance on conviviality, setting aside time for fun and humour to strengthen community bonds and create moments of togetherness. Humour seems to be rooted in our cultural, linguistic, and historical identity, and plays a crucial role in our social fabric and collective expression.

Québec’s history is marked by many instances of strife and resistance, including the Quiet Revolution, a period in the 1960s punctuated by demonstrations, strikes, and the rise of Québec nationalism. These events define our people and have given rise to a tradition of lively social and political debate. Humour is often deployed through satirical commentary and criticism in these debates. When it comes to serious issues, comedy allows us to promote dialogue, challenge boundaries, and push for change. That’s why so many comedians from Quebec use their platform to address important social issues or critique current events — think the Bye Bye, Infoman, the late Sol, and the Justiciers Masqués.

Over the years, Québec has built up a solid cultural reputation, especially in the world of humour, and has given rise to a number of emblematic figures. Take, for example, Patrick Huard, a comedian very much of my time who, after a career in stand-up, is now an actor, host, and even director. He’s not the only comedian who has used the craft as a springboard to television and film. Many up-and-coming comedians also have a strong presence on various platforms, making them highly visible public figures.

I now better understand why humour is so deeply rooted in our heritage. It reflects our history, provides an outlet, and is a source of pride; it plays a crucial role in the construction of our collective identity.

At the same time, let’s not forget that our language gives our humour its unique flavour. This is true for every culture, but the French language is precious to Québec and foundational to our cultural identity. Our rich vocabulary allows for subtle wordplay, double entendres, and nuances that are a hit with advertisers and audiences.

Humour, whether ironic or absurd, and self-mockery provide fertile ground for adaptation and advertising localization. Through the use of cultural references and a comedic touch that resonates with audiences, an ad can be super effective at connecting with consumers and eliciting a positive response to the brand. In Québec, audiences are very receptive to content that strikes an emotional chord. When used strategically, humour can be a powerful driver of success for an advertising campaign.

Émilie Maranda, Director of Culture and Communications

Differentiating in an Age of Uniformity

Whenever I find myself on Airbnb looking for accommodations for a trip, I always end up thinking that everything looks the same these days, no matter where you are in the world. Beyond the minimalist design that’s taken over apartment interiors, you’ll find more of the same in restaurants and fashion in major cities, from Asia to America. This is the thesis Ryan Duffy explores in his article, “Why Everything Looks the Same.” The trend even extends to the content we consume, with many TV shows following the same pre-established formula, or the “Hey guys, welcome back to my channel!” script recycled by influencers on YouTube.

In marketing, the trend is just as striking: logos, typography, product aesthetics, you name it. Everything is streamlined to suit the tastes of Millennials and Gen Zers – the demographics with the most purchasing power. From a brand’s point of view, it’s easy to understand why.

This year, as we witness the meteoric rise of artificial intelligence, the article takes on a whole new meaning. While AI continues to make headlines in marketing media for its promise of unbridled creativity and near-infinite potential, powerful offensives like Rethink’s A.I Ketchup campaign for Heinz highlights one of AI’s fundamental flaws: its propensity for homogenization. The Heinz campaign ingeniously plays off this fact by asking AI to generate an image of a ketchup bottle, leading to results shaped by the iconic Heinz bottle and logo. However, consider Trivago’s recent campaign, where some 20 actors are replaced by just one actor assisted by AI. Trivago campaigns were once synonymous with 20 spokespeople and 25 productions. Now, that number is reduced to one. Again, from a brand’s perspective, it’s understandably tempting to simplify an international production process into a single campaign that can be deployed in all markets.

The flip side, however, is that Trivago’s campaign was met with mixed reactions. In my opinion, trying to please everyone results in pleasing (almost) no one. In other words, when a brand wants to reach a broad audience, it may be tempted to use common archetypes. Read: a middle-aged white male, easy on the eyes and speaking in a polished narrative – not too formal, not too casual, but devoid of linguistic peculiarities. Goodbye to campaigns specially designed or adapted to highlight a target market’s sociocultural diversity or uniqueness. When we stop addressing specific groups, no one feels targeted. Ironically, though, homogenization achieves the opposite of its intended effect: it tends to exclude more than include.

So, what’s the solution for a brand that wants to stand out in 2024? As the author of the Medium article suggests, the answer lies in differentiation. Dare to be original. Avoid conformity. Your brand will be much more memorable. And, might I add: speak to your market. If you want to have a presence in Québec, talk to the Québécois. Capitalize on the province’s sociolinguistic and cultural particularities. At TFS, this is our specialty. We’re always happy to help you stand out.

Catherine Renaud, Copywriter

50 Shades of Subscriptions

Are you subscribed to a streaming platform? Probably. Two or three platforms? Maybe. Do you also have a subscription for your morning oatmeal, day cream or foundation, a car-sharing service, a fitness app that broadcasts live from your living room, your favourite clothing brand, meal kits for the week, educational kits for your kids, and your organic wine? All this, and more, is part of the ever-growing subscription market. The range of brands that use the subscription model is endless. And Québec is no exception to this trend in consumer behaviour. Forecasts predict that the global subscription market, which represented $200 billion in 2021, could reach $500 billion by 2025 – more than doubling in under five years.

But what exactly does this trend mean for brands and consumers? On the brand side, it’s easier to forecast workforce and raw material demands when figures are established for the medium- to long-term. However, in addition to consistent monthly or annual revenue, subscription platforms can also track consumer behaviours and allow brands to adjust or customize their offer, delivering an enhanced experience and creating what is known as “feedback loops.” The subscription model also enables brands to build customer loyalty by tailoring to individual preferences and gathering specific data. On the consumer side, the personalized experience can be a real draw, not to mention the benefit of no longer thinking of their spending in terms of “one-off purchases.” Subscriptions alleviate the burden of shopping for products and services one by one, lightening the mental load.

But is it always to the consumer’s advantage to maintain multiple subscriptions? Needs change over time, as do financial situations, which can lead subscribers to ask the classic question: “Do I really need this?” With the current state of inflation, brands have every interest in adjusting their offer and making their user experience even more attractive and accessible to maintain long-term relationships with their customers. Competition will become increasingly fierce over the next few years if this trend continues, and we will continue to see new subscription services that are as unusual as they are innovative.

Émilie Choquet, Copywriter

The Bye Bye: The Super Bowl of Advertising in Québec

Each year, millions of people (myself included) tune into the Super Bowl – a sporting event that regularly sets new audience records. The Super Bowl is a big-stadium spectacle, combining creative advertising and musical entertainment with a football game. In 2024, Super Bowl LVIII attracted 123.7 million viewers on average, making it the largest single-channel television audience of all time. The big-ticket event is considered a cultural phenomenon in the United States.

North of the border, in Québec, there’s another TV event setting audience records: the Bye Bye, a year-end comedy show produced by Radio-Canada. The Bye Bye is so much more than a simple entertainment program. Airing every year on December 31, the show has become a deeply rooted cultural tradition in Québec, combining satire and humour as it looks back on the significant events of the past year.

Despite its global popularity, the Super Bowl is no match for the Bye Bye in Québec. In fact, according to audience numbers, the 2023 edition of the Bye Bye attracted over 4.5 million viewers – half of Québec’s population! By comparison, the Super Bowl audience represented roughly one-third of the U.S. population.

The French Shop (TFS) is very proud of its presence in the Bye Bye commercials over the past four years. By taking part in this iconic TV event, TFS helps promote and preserve the richness of Québec culture.

Although the Super Bowl is a spectacular world-class event, Radio-Canada’s Bye Bye remains my must-see TV event in Québec. More than just a year-end show, it’s a symbol of Québec’s unity and pride, rooted in tradition and celebrated with passion every year.

Lusenalto Andrade, Art Director and Co-Creative Director

Serving third wheels a slice of the action

When you’re single, Valentine’s Day can be a bit gloomy. Spending it with a couple may be even sadder… unless Pizza Pizza is involved. Always willing to put its heart where our mouths are, Pizza Pizza offered a generous consolation prize for the lonely third wheels among us: On February 14, singles could show up at any restaurant and get a medium pizza for free, provided they brought a couple.

Our partner agency, Zulu Alpha Kilo, the creative team behind this Pizza Pizza campaign, commissioned The French Shop to develop a clever and humorous adaptation of its “Third Wheel Wheel Deal” concept for the Québec market. We savoured the challenge of succinctly capturing the key elements of the English campaign name: 1) the idea of there being one single person too many; 2) the number three; 3) the promotional offer and 4) the pizza.

Some may be tempted to opt for a literal translation like “Offre de pizza pour les troisièmes roues” (Pizza deal for third wheels). As a rule, literal translations are generally not the best choice when adapting for target markets. Every language has a wealth of idiomatic expressions that its speakers identify with, and it would be foolish not to take advantage of them and speak with authenticity and creativity while still respecting the spirit of the campaign in the original language. That said, a literal translation can be a good place to start to explore the realms of possibility, even if you ultimately deviate from it. If, in English, the common expression pertains to a third wheel (of what vehicle, one wonders), we speak of a fifth wheel in French. From three to five, it’s clear that this option does not correspond with the original message, and it isn’t very catchy either.

So, we abandoned the carriage and its wheels to broaden our horizons. Between “trouples” (throuples), ménages à trois, and “les trois font la paire” (three makes a pair), the French phrase book for threesomes abounds with options, but we were still missing the notion of singlehood — because this Valentine’s Day, we weren’t honouring unions that radiate love, but those who subsist off of nothing but pizza.

With a shortlist that included options like “Coupon du chaperon” (chaperone coupon) and “Pizzage à trois,” it was “Spécial célibatrois” (singlethree special) that finally won our client over — and us too! The advantage of this portmanteau was that it was concise, conveyed the notion of being single, included the number three, and advertised the promotional component with the word “special.”

Once again, we salute Pizza Pizza and Zulu Alpha Kilo for the originality of their targeted campaigns for special occasions. It’s always a pleasure to be their third wheel. 😉

Catherine Renaud, Copywriter