Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Public Service Announcements in France

by: Christine Lee

Media landscape in France “has its cultural roots in the postwar period, when the state decided to regulate an industry that lost credit after the collaborationist Vichy regime” (Pasquier and Lamizet). Therefore, media circulation in France dependent on state subsidies and other politically liable enterprises. The development of late liberal ideologies is due to mass media traditionally being used as a window for expressing political ideologies and recruitment over anything else. France follows a Mediterranean/Polarized Pluralist model according to Hallin and Mancini. Polarized pluralism represents a model of liberal democracy where many discrete political parties exist and occupies a very wide range of political positions. This wide range calls for liberalism to be extended into the media as it is seen as advancing ideas, the quality of life, and even language and culture (Hallin and Mancini). And so it is no surprise that advertisements in France have developed into liberal forms of discourse.

Advertisements are a ubiquitous means of mass communication. Its pervasiveness seeks to secure that everybody in society will receive important messages that seem to reflect society’s values and conducts, possibly in order to redefine attitudes and even instigate social change (“Advertising in France”). This type of discourse comes in the form of public service announcements. Stated simply, PSA’s are “advertisements carried free of charge by mass media to publicize a message in public interest” (“Public Service Announcement”). They are interesting because while usual advertisements sell products and propaganda sells ideas, PSA’s sell ideology, groups of ideas that advance social groups (Ward).

Karl Lagerfeld Highway Safety PSA

In 1997, the French government, by the Prime Minister, granted NPO’s concerned about budgeting, space on broadcast television and radio addressing issues that could be labeled as social problems. The specific label given to these issues, “Grande Cause Nationale”, chosen by the Prime Minister, allows for nonprofit organizations or community associations “to obtain free broadcasts of messages on public television and radio for a whole year. Additionally, presidents of the companies determine the conditions under which they are fulfilling this obligation. Also, the organizations receiving the assistance are recommended to inform the public of the allocation and amount of donations received. Another label, “Campagne D'intérêt General”, public service campaign, is allocated in the same way as “Grande Cause Nationale”. The only difference is that the organizations that receive this label pay for their advertisements, but at superior rates (“Label ‘Grande Cause”). And as all public service announcements, emphasis is placed on major social problems such as the protection of children, defense of human rights, highway safety, AIDS, and more.
Here are a few examples of PSA's throughout history that sell ideology as opposed to products:

"regardez-vous...la forme, ca vous regarde!" (1970)

This particular PSA was commissioned by the government and created by Publicis. Having obtained the "Les Grandes Causes Nationales", it was distributed for free. It has a particularly simple aesthetic approach compared to today's PSA's.

As mentioned, the usual advertisements aim to sell products, but public service announcements focus on selling ideology, which usually refers to “a systematic, elaborated and delimited system of thought, like political ideologies or religious doctrines” (Schmid 57). And even so, it seems as if the approaches to selling are similar, if not identical.

In fact, an AIDS campaign video created in 2006 with the collaboration of TBWA\Paris, a French advertising company, and Wilfrid Brimo, director, and distributed by AIDES, a French non-profit organization spreading the awareness of AIDS, sells ideology but uses the characteristics la seduction, l’amour, and l’humour to do so. These characteristics embody the French advertising sphere. “Live long enough to find the right one” is the message at the end of these two videos – a homosexual version to the song of “Sugar Baby Love” by the Rubettes (Sugar Baby Love) (Object 3) and a heterosexual one (Live Long Enough) (Object 4) to “Baby Baby” by The Vibrators. These videos are fun and lighthearted, controversial for its explicit content, but also speak about a universal issue, “finding the right one”, which makes them relatable. By creating two versions, this campaign also caters to a much larger audience. Also, by having the message written in English at the end, AIDES attempts to reach an even larger audience – the world. AIDES is not the only organization in France that distributes anti-AIDS content and ideology. See for yourself:

Sugar Baby Love (Homosexual Version)
Watch the Heterosexual Version here

Public service announcements are exceptionally important counterparts to French media identity, engaging the society in ideologies that are automatically accepted as the norm due to successful advertising campaigns over the years. It has taken France some time with much turmoil to get to the place it is at in its current media landscape, but the positive results that exist today may possibly exceed the difficulties that France has overcome to get there. Not only does the government provide worthy campaigns with subsidies to spread awareness, but it also first handedly partakes in spreading positive ideologies by providing the monetary necessities and specifically commissioning organizations for numerous PSA’s. The advertising sphere has also developed into one that can be clearly identified as French with distinguishing characteristics that actually work to sell products, ideas, or ideologies. Also, the multitude of PSA’s that exist for the innumerable issues in the general public, and for all types of people, cater to an integrated society in which everybody is equal. Ideologies spread by PSA’s are mostly universal and more open to the betterment of all people. Therefore, France does not seem to limit the means as to how messages are portrayed, allowing for liberalism in the media, with Baby Sugar Love being the soundtrack of a nation being revolutionized.

Additional French PSA's:
“Mon corps peut transmettre le sida. Moi je n’accepte pas” (2000)


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