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Historians credit the first French advertisement to the journalist Théophraste Renaudot, whose newspaper, the Gazette, printed classified advertisements in 1633. Two hundred years after Mr. Renaudot, French advertising consisted mostly of classified ads. Significant development of the industry began only in the 1830s with the rise of the French press aimed at the middle class.

France's second innovator in advertising was Émile de Girardin. In the 1830s, Mr. Girardin became the first to link the price of ad space to the verified circulation of his newspapers, which began to accept ads for medicines and financial solicitations. The ads themselves, however, remained simple in style and format, using no engravings or pictures and relying on brief text to sell the products.

Press and posters

Accompanying the growth of newspapers in the 1840s was the organization of the Société Générale des Annonces (General Society for Advertising). SGA paid a fixed amount for advertising space in French newspapers, then sold that space to advertisers. By the 1850s, SGA was taken over by Havas, France's leading press agency, which held onto SGA until 1879. (Havas took over SGA again in 1920.) Agence Havas dominated the sale of advertising space until World War II.

The French press experienced a second wave of development in the first decades of the Third Republic (1870-1940). Cheaper newsprint, faster means of production, increased literacy and growing urban populations all aided in promoting newspaper circulation.

Increased circulation, however, did not lead to a corresponding increase in advertising due to a rivalry between classified advertising and two other media that arose just before the turn of the 20th century: the catalog and the poster. The modern department store was born in Paris in 1852 with the Bon Marché, and other stores followed. These retailers spent little in newspapers, relying instead on catalogs. By 1900, these catalogs were as large as 200 pages and some even had color illustrations.

Bon Marché and other large department stores were spending 2% of their revenues on catalog advertising, roughly comparable to spending by U.S. retailers Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Marshall Field & Co. The largest catalog of all, though, was produced by La Manufacture Française d'Armes et de Cycles de Saint-Étienne (maker of guns, hunting equipment and bicycles), whose 1910 catalog was about 1,200 pages and was distributed to more than 600,000 subscribers. The success and scope of these catalogs made makers of advertisements seek other media, including posters.

The poster (l'affiche) is France's best claim to advertising fame. Posters in black and white had been used in the 17th century, and color appeared in the next century. By the 19th century, most posters advertised bookstores and the latest novels. Lithography revolutionized the production of posters in France by the 1850s. Replacing the simple textual posters of the past, lithography allowed painted designs and inspired new creativity in advertising.

Following the success of poster artist Jules Chéret and his studio, other artists came to the advertising poster at the turn of the century, including Edouard Manet, Alfons Mucha, Pierre Bonnard and, most famously, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. It was estimated that by 1900, poster advertising was responsible for one-fourth of all French advertising revenue.

Posters remain a vital force in French advertising, with a higher percentage spent on posters in France than in any other Western nation.

Arrested development

Despite the developments of a popular press and a successful poster industry, by 1914, French advertising trailed that of Great Britain and the U.S. The French lagged for several reasons. First, France, with only half the per capita income of either Great Britain or the U.S., was not yet a nation of mass consumption. A majority of its citizens still lived in rural areas and made many of the items they needed. Second, France had few large companies with nationwide name recognition; the country was still a collection of regional markets with few brand-name products. Small retailers distrusted advertising, feeling that it undercut their relationship with their customers.

Perhaps most important, many French people believed that a "respectable" business had no need to advertise. Bribery and scandal tarnished the French press (especially the financial press) during the Third Republic, greatly reducing the public's trust. As a result, newspapers, in an attempt to win back the public, buried advertising at the back of their editions. French intellectuals and writers insisted that advertising was "wasteful" and a deterrent to the economy. Furthermore, advertising represented the "Americanization" of France and a way of life inimical to French culture. As a result, French advertising was only poorly developed by the time of World War I.

From 1918 to 1945, France entered a new phase of development, becoming more dynamic as a result of innovation by manufacturers, the media and the ad industry. One example was the automobile maker Citroën. André Citroën wanted to sponsor spectacles such as a 1924 caravan of Citroën cars across Africa and correspondingly smaller caravans through France, which were publicized in newspapers and magazines. The most visible Citroën promotion was the 1925 lighting of the Eiffel Tower with the word "Citroën," readable from some 20 miles away.

By 1930, Citroën was spending 10 times as much on advertising as its rival, Peugeot, and was France's largest single advertiser and producer of automobiles. But the Great Depression ruined Citroën, although the marketer was eventually rescued by the tire marketer Michelin. As a result, Citroën retreated from advertising for 30 years.

The French press continued to expand in the years between the wars, led by the regional press, where circulation and advertising receipts more than doubled. Paris' evening paper, L'Intransigeant, became the first French newspaper to blend advertising with editorial copy and to allot regular spaces in the newspaper for advertisements in the 1920s. L'Intransigeant's evening rival, Paris-Soir, became the most successful of all French papers in the 1930s, with classified advertisements in one section and all other ads (many using photographs) dispersed throughout the paper.

French magazines were also innovators in this period, using glossy paper, color covers, photographs and illustrations. L'Illustration was the best example of the type of magazine that blended news, current events, travel and cultural developments. Advertisements filled more than 20% of the magazine (still a much lower percentage than comparable American or British publications). L'Illustration found a rival in the late 1930s in Match (the precursor to Paris-Match), whose format resembled the recently introduced Life in the U.S.

The most successful French magazines, however, were those aimed at women, especially fashion magazines such as Vogue, Marie-Claire and Femina. In these, advertisers came to recognize the importance of female consumers. Le Petit Echo de la Mode enjoyed the highest circulation of any French magazine between the wars with more than 1 million readers. While a national magazine, Le Petit Echo offered regional editions that allowed advertisers to customize ad campaigns by market.

Emerging media: Movies and radio

The 1920s also saw the emergence of two new media with great potential for advertising: movies and radio. The first movie ads of the 1920s were painted slides shown before the films and during intermissions. Later, cartoons replaced these slides and then, in the 1930s with the arrival of sound, actors in one- or two-minute films. Colgate, L'Oréal, Philips and La Vache Qui Rit cheese were among the early users of this medium.

Regular radio broadcasting first appeared in France in 1921 with a transmitter on the Eiffel Tower. The French government regarded radio as a vital national service and by 1926 only 11 of the nation's 29 radio stations remained in private hands. After 1926, the government refused to allow any new private stations. Radio coverage was further limited by short broadcasting days and a small transmission radius. Furthermore, the government forbade public stations to use advertising. Radio seemed to be a lost medium for advertisers. However, several entrepreneurs entered the private radio industry in the 1930s and revolutionized its use in France.

One of these was Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet of Publicis. As a competitor to the ad agency Havas, Publicis, founded in 1926, was seeking new clients and recognized the underdevelopment of radio advertising. At first, Publicis acted as a broker for airtime for private radio stations initially in the Paris area and then for several regional stations. In 1935, the agency bought a small Parisian radio station and renamed it Radio-Cité. Through innovation and experimentation, offering live entertainment, the first broadcast news in France and quiz shows, Radio-Cité became France's most profitable radio station.

Advertisers with substantial budgets (radio was relatively costly compared with print) flocked to radio. Monsavon and Persil soaps, the aperitif Byrrh and the drug Quintonine began to reach not only a regional audience but also a national one with new slogans and jingles, which were often reinforced by print ads. Advertisers came to promote special radio programs such as "Le Kiosque à Musique Persil" sponsored by Lever Brothers.

Professionalism and industry growth

A number of professional advertising organizations existed at the turn of the century. However, not until the 1930s would these organizations consolidate under one large umbrella group, the Fédération Française de la Publicité, a weak regulatory force watching over 22 different smaller advertising groups.

Another movement toward professionalization came with the rise of advertising trade journals, the most notable being Vendre. Vendre, which had started in 1923, emphasized a strategy of comprehensive advertising campaigns, something that French advertisers rarely tried: They mostly offered a string of single, unrelated ads in various media according to the whims and connections of the agency.

The period between the wars also saw the establishment of several French advertising agencies, such as Dam, Dupuy, Elvinger, Jep et Carré, de Plas and Publicis. While these agencies prospered, the largest had only one-tenth the advertising billings of giant Havas. The main focus of Havas was still the brokerage of advertising space, but in the 1930s the company turned to creating advertisements. Havas developed a network of subsidiaries throughout France that gave the agency a competitive advantage over its smaller rivals. Not only did the agency produce ads, it also placed them.

Beyond Havas and its rivals, France had hundreds of one-person agencies that remained fiercely independent and resisted the consolidation process that was occurring in Great Britain and the U.S. As a result, the advertising industry was pyramid-shaped: one large agency at the top, a few medium-sized ones in the middle and a myriad of smaller agencies below. Foreign agencies in France primarily concentrated on advertising for their national clients, as French advertisers preferred to stay with French shops. Thus, J. Walter Thompson Co., a leading U.S. agency, had prosperous London and Berlin offices, but the Paris office struggled through the 1930s.

By 1940, France remained much less developed than its Anglo-American counterparts. During the Nazi occupation and under the Vichy government (1940-44), French advertising entered a near hibernation as the French media shrank under Nazi supervision. The Vichy government forbade the advertising of alcohol and also began to regulate the promotion of pharmaceuticals, two items that had been mainstays of advertising. With shortages and rationing, businesses had little to advertise. Only after 1945 did French advertising catch up with its rivals.

The postwar years

France accomplished an economic "miracle" from the 1940s through the 1970s. As per capita income increased, so did discretionary spending; advertisers began to operate within a mass market. Economic and political changes caused the transformation of the French media. Radio, which had been so important during the 1930s, was lost as the French government nationalized all stations and forbade advertising.

TV remained elusive for advertisers until 1968. As with radio, the French government controlled France's few TV outlets. Lobbying by agency pressure groups finally resulted in limited advertising being allowed in 1968 (the first advertisement being a Publicis spot for Boursin cheese). But it was not until the 1980s, with further government deregulation of TV and the first private channels, that TV ad spending surpassed print. In 1997, French TV was fully privatized.

Print media remained important in France: Newspapers underwent increasing consolidation and, despite technological advances, circulation made few gains. Instead, newspapers faced increasing competition from newly created periodicals and magazines. Marie-France (1945), Elle (1945), Paris-Match (1950), Séléction du Reader's Digest (1950), L'Express (1953) and Le Point (1972) were some of the leaders in circulation and advertising revenue. By the late 1950s, the periodical press received more advertising revenue than all newspapers combined.

While many marketers continued to resist advertising, French hostility to advertising gradually eroded. New attitudes coincided with better-quality advertising, the regulation of quack remedies and the movement toward a youth culture that was more accepting of advertising than earlier generations.

In 1945, when the French government nationalized Havas and stripped the company of its news service, the structure of the ad industry changed. While Havas was in turmoil, other agencies, such as Publicis, found themselves better able to compete in the immediate postwar period. Many larger agencies rushed to Americanize their techniques after the war, with some French agencies sending younger executives to visit Madison Avenue.

Examples of increasing professionalization came with the introduction of American-inspired institutions in France such as ETMAR, the first market research company (1948), the Centre d'Étude des Supports Publicit&eacuate; (1956), a media planning firm and L'Institut de Recherches et d'Études Publicitaires (1958), which collected, documented and analyzed French national ad spending. These institutions gave French agencies and advertisers a better sense of the market, how advertising revenues were dispersed and where to spend them. Larger agencies followed by establishing their own similar internal departments beginning in the 1950s.

Agencies also continued to belong to professional associations, the most notable being the FFP (which became the Féd&eacaute;ration Nationale de la Publicité in 1975). However, the FFP represented the interests of smaller agencies. The larger French agencies, notably Publicis and Havas along with 18 other large agencies, formed the Compagnie d'Agences de Publicité in 1964.

End-of-the-century issues

The government maintained an intrusive influence in French advertising, enacting a series of new regulations in the 1990s. In 1991, the Loi Evin (Evin Law) forbade most tobacco and alcohol advertising. In 1992, as part of an anticorruption campaign, the French government passed the Loi Sapin, which required that the media make public their rates and that media buyers become direct agents for their clients rather than brokers for space. The 1994 Loi Toubon, initiated to protect French language and culture, required that all advertising be done in French.

Havas (and its most important subsidiary, Euro RSCG) and Publicis, by acquisition and development, became important players in the international advertising market in the late 1990s. According to Advertising Age, in 2003, Publicis Groupe ranked No. 4 among world marketing organizations in terms of worldwide revenue and Havas was No. 6.

Beyond these two agencies, the third great player in the French advertising world was Carat-Espace, a media buyer. Carat-Espace rapidly became France's largest space broker in the 1980s, surpassing the buying subsidiaries of Havas and Publicis, and by the 1990s became Europe's largest space-buying agency with intentions to expand further its U.S. operations.

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