The 20th anniversary of the French Language Act (Loi Toubon) of 4 August 1994 is a good occasion to examine the applicable rules when advertising in France. Such requirements are of particular interest for the fashion, retail and design sectors, which are in essence international and predominantly use English as the language of communication.

Scope of the law: The Loi Toubon pursues two purposes: protection of the consumer and defense of the French language. Its scope is very broad and covers all business activities targeting consumers and end users, as well as public entities and documents concerning employees. In this brief article, we focus on advertising.

First principles: Pursuant to the Loi Toubon, the French language is mandatory for the “designation, offer, presentation, instructions, and description of the scope and conditions of a warranty of goods, products and services […]” (Art. 2), as well as for advertisements.

The use of a foreign language is only permitted when accompanied by a French translation, and the translation should be as legible, audible and intelligible as the foreign version.

Means of communication: All kinds of advertisements must comply with the Loi Toubon, i.e. “any written, spoken, radio and television broadcasted advertisement”. Notwithstanding that the law dates back to 1994, commentators and case law consider that it applies to the Internet and therefore to online advertising.

Exceptions provided by the law: Significant exceptions are provided, such as, products and specialties of foreign origin, (e.g. “jeans”, “tweed”, “t-shirt”, “kilt”, “smoking”, “stilettos”) or foreign names protected in France pursuant to international agreements. Business names and trademarks are not affected so if slogans have been registered as a trademark, they need not be translated, which is often advised to companies wishing to advertise internationally with a unique slogan.

Control and sanctions: Associations for the Protection of the French Language play an important role in the application of the Loi Toubon and some have the right of action in front of courts. Moreover, the Consumer Authority (DGCCRF) controls its application, as well as the Broadcasting Authority (CSA) and the French Authority for Advertising Regulation (ARPP). Non-compliance with the Loi Toubon is punished by criminal sanctions, i.e. a fine of €750 (for a natural person) and €3,750 for a legal person (corporate body).

Examples in the fashion and retail sector: In 2009 and 2013, the ARPP issued a report on advertising and the French language.

This report highlighted good and bad practices including the lack of translation in the fashion industry (e.g. “the new vintage”, “eyewear”, “the art of ”) and the inventive use of French in the cosmetic field to confer a sense of chic and elegance (“ne soyez pas en froid avec l’hiver”, “attractionisme – fascinance – sublimitude”).

Other examples of the use of French language to provide an advantage in international advertising campaigns: “ j’adore”, “parce que je le vaux bien”.

Farid Bouguettaya