créaghan – l’accent sur l’anglais · création et adaptation

Creative Adaptation Is The Key

Ever wonder why English advertising in Quebec isn’t always as good as it could be?
Could be it’s really just French advertising in disguise.

This print ad for a private school for girls is a good example of a concept that does not translate well into English.
Instead of translation, the ad was creatively adapted so it would work effectively for an English audience.

Until about 50 years ago, most advertising in Quebec was created in English first and then translated into French. The big Montreal agencies were all English. Many advertisers also dealt directly with agencies in Toronto, or with their branch offices in Quebec.

That’s the way it had always been until Jacques Bouchard came along with a better idea, starting in the mid-1960s and culminating with his classic Les 36 cordes sensibles des Québécois, an analysis of the social fabric of French Quebecers. Since its publication in 1978, his book has served as a guide and set the tone for the entire advertising industry in Quebec. Bouchard’s better idea was that Quebec consumers should get advertising created especially for them in French, not just translations of English advertising. (I translated an online English version of his book, The 36 Heartstrings of Quebecers, in 2015.)

Jacques Bouchard’s breakthrough worked so well that it’s now English consumers who get shortchanged in Quebec, with English translations of advertising that was originally created for the French market. Which leaves more than 1 million English consumers in Quebec not always getting the quality messages they deserve…and advertisers not always getting the best bang for their buck.

Let’s face it, no one really likes translated communications. So it’s a real shame to spend hard-earned money doing just that. The best way to get and keep customers is to speak to them naturally in their own language.

I had the very good fortune of getting my first advertising agency job at BCP when Jacques Bouchard was still running the show. I was hired as an English copywriter and to adapt French material into English, eventually becoming creative group head, responsible for BCP’s English and French-to-English output. Bouchard impressed upon me – and he could be very persuasive – the importance of never translating but of creatively adapting advertising copy into English instead.

Much to my surprise, I found this could be done with great success by thinking outside the box, as they say, and using the extraordinary depth and versatility of the English language…without requiring new visuals, layouts, and other costly components. It was something I did for clients day in and day out at BCP and something I continue doing for clients today (agencies and advertisers alike).

If you’re unhappy with English translations of your French advertising, then stop translating. Send me your French material, and I’ll send you back English advertising copy written with your English consumers in mind. You’ll see the difference right away...and so will they. – Lawrence Creaghan

creaghan – creative · copywriting · editing · revising