“Ce n’est ni un scotch, ni un bourbon, c’est du Jack.” read the French translation at the bottom of the poster. And thank God for that. For a moment there, I didn’t know what I was reading. I thought it might have been a poster for a movie, featuring the actors It’s Not Scotch, It’s Not Bourbon, and It’s Jack. But then I thought it might be a poster for a crime novel, because there was a “dangereux pour la santé” at the bottom.

More and more nowadays, I’m seeing these kinds of posters in Paris – the ones that feature something written in English at the top, something very difficult to understand like (U le Boss) followed by an asterisk, which means there’s a French translation waiting for you at the bottom. (As an aid I’m sure, just in case you’re a bit lost or intrigued.)

Bizarrely, though, I haven’t noticed many people scratching their heads, looking perplexed at these posters. Nor have I seen them bending forward and squinting at the small type that reads at the bottom Vous, le Patron.

Yet in just the same way a voice comes right after the credits for the reality show Le Bachelor and says in sotto voce “Le Gentleman célibataire,” these French posters feel obliged to make sure you understand what it is they’re showing. And they’re right. Imagine spending all that money on an ad campaign or a television series and your audience doesn’t know what U le Boss means!

And by the way. “Le Gentleman célibataire”  technically doesn’t go far enough. Imagine I didn’t know what gentleman means? I might be completely lost and change channels. I’d prefer gentilhomme célibataire  s’il vous plait – next time*(la prochaine fois).

Before I started my research (yes I consider this research), I assumed the asterisk thing was some sort of quota thing, something l’Académie Française institutes in order to keep French the first language. But “U le Boss” isn’t English either. It’s text/phonetic Franglais. No need for an asterisk I think. No need for an asterisk either when you’re using emoji hearts as in I(heart) you, that is unless you’re Mamie Nova yogurt I guess, who needs you to know it means “Je t’adore” not I fuck you.

I think secretly asterisk posters are becoming the rage, simply because anything trying to position itself globally or modern nowadays has to have some English in it. A recent publication called Le Guide Design, edited by the magazine Strategies, listed the leading design “start-ups.”* in France.*(les jeunes pousses)

  • Be Dandy
  • Coconuts
  • Brand Brothers
  • Bug
  • Creative Room
  • Curious
  • Future Brand

And that’s just to the F’s.

The other day I noticed how a recent film “Nous York” (get the joke?) tried to be cute by putting at the bottom of its poster in English “At the Cinema Nov. 7,” which they thought was awesome considering where the film took place. The only problem was “At the Cinema” isn’t proper English. “In theaters Nov. 7.” would be better.*(mieux)

I honestly think asterisk posters should stay with what asterisks were meant for – that is to site a source or provide a truth – like *can cause cancer or *operating heavy machinery under this medication may result in amputation. If you’re worried about people not understanding your product and are dependent on a small asterisk explanation at the bottom, maybe you need to come up with a clearer idea.

I grew up loving the ads for Grey Poupon, the Dijon mustard sold in the US. The makers could have easily fallen into the trap of saying something in French to better capture the product then shooting subtitles at the bottom to make sure we understood. Instead, they went crazy and shot British nobility speaking from their Rolls Royces as a way to capture French elegance. Strange I know, but the result? “But of course” which became a household expression – and proved a lot more powerful than “Mais oui bien sur” with an asterisk after it.

I think they should do the same with Jack Daniels. Have two French guys speaking French in some elegant setting and  have one of them pronounce the name of the product as they normally would, as in “It’s not Scotch, it’s not Bourbon, it’s Jacques.” *(Jack)

In which case, the asterisk probably isn’t needed.

Asterisk posters – Mediapart