Thursday, December 14, 2006


When Microsoft started running its People Ready advertising, I wondered immediately how they would get around the French equivalent. In my experience with an international company, we often had problems rendering a vague idea into French. Consider the tag line “It’s time”. At the beginning, it referred to the fact that it was the right time to purchase a new automobile. Then, in the subsequent years, different meanings were attributed to the words and the French creative people ran into problems of finding the equivalents (there were none to be found).

Another time, emphasis was placed on a device in the trunk of a car that would allow a small child trapped in it, to open it from the inside. I remember a whole booklet being put together where in addition to the copy, a drawing of an elephant trunk, was used. That is what killed the French. Indeed, “tronc” is the appendage of the elephant but “coffre” is the box into which one can place luggage, etc. The play on words just was not possible. You can image how lame the booklet was.

Today, I opened a French magazine (L’Actualité) and found a full-page Microsoft ad, in perfect French, which read as follows:

« Dans une entreprise people XX ready, le marketing et l’ingénierie sont sur la même longueur d’onde. »

In English, people ready appears to be a play on words. My understanding of it is that people are or become ready (and therefore productive) if they are provided the right tools (Microsoft). It took me several repeated readings of the English text to understand the message.

Why does Microsoft think French speakers (and readers) in
Canada would understand the idea of “People ready” when it was left in English. If I had taken a complete French sentence and inserted an English colloquialism in the centre of it, how many French speakers would understand it?

Here is what the ad says:

« Des employés unis par des données sont des employés unis. Microsoft. Des logiciels conçus pour les entreprises où les employés sont toujours prêts. »

Is there a difference between people ready and ready people? There certainly is in my mind.

Bilingual creative advertising is always the result of cultural and linguistic consultation. That is why most of the ads in
Quebec are rewritten in the French context, using French themes, and personalities. Microsoft fell asleep at the wheel.

No comments: