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Personal Is Political in France

Mercredi, 18 Mai, 2005
Samuel Thomas: "To say 'You are black. You are white,' or to ask the question is only to discriminate"

"With which groups do you identify?" asks the controversial questionnaire circulating on the streets of Paris. Respondents are asked to choose among 11 listed ethnicities.

2005-05-18 Europe

Personal Is Political in France

"With which groups do you identify?" asks the controversial questionnaire circulating on the streets of Paris. Respondents are asked to choose among 11 listed ethnicities.

The poll, part of a multicultural-marketing research campaign conducted by a small firm called Sopi Communication, is nothing short of revolutionary for France, where collecting information on race, ethnicity or religion is taboo. Sopi's effort is part of a larger trend -- the slow acceptance that France has minorities and that they may have different tastes and needs.
especially needs. it's not HUMANE to keep us from slitting the throats of Joos, putting our sisters into the veil and taking over Europe. we got NEEDS you know ...
France long has taken the superficial appearance of assimilation to an extreme: Officially, only French and non-French people live here. In the name of equality and integration, the government insists immigrants leave their old identities at the border to join what the French Constitution calls "the Indivisible Republic." Ethnic and religious profiling also is viewed suspiciously in other European countries, in part because the Nazis used government records containing such data to identify Jews during World War II.

And, as we discussed the other day, a fair number of French helped.

"In the U.S., it's OK to have different neighborhoods with different groups of people. In France, there's a mental block against this" because it is seen as undermining the country's unity, says Mercedes Erra, who heads Euro RSCG France, a unit of French advertising group Havas SA.
non, non, there are none of those brutal Anglo groupings of ethnics in our concrete suburbs, none at all ....
But France's "color blind" philosophy is showing cracks as the country confronts its failure to integrate its growing minority population, primarily of North and West African descent. Some politicians, such as former finance minister and presidential hopeful Nicholas Sarkozy, have begun to speak favorably of affirmative action, long a no-no here.

Sopi's research is the first of its kind in France. Jean-Christophe Despres, the firm's founder, initially pitched his idea for multicultural marketing to Havas and to Publicis SA, France's other big ad and marketing group. Both companies have extensive multicultural-marketing activities in the U.S., but they turned him down. Ms. Erra says France's aversion to ethnic profiling has dissuaded Havas from doing multicultural marketing at home.

So Mr. Despres founded Sopi in 2003, convinced there was a market for ethnic and religious research that businesses could use to market their products and guide their strategies. Underscoring the lack of religious data, for instance, there is no accurate figure available on the number of Muslims in France. The interior ministry says there are 4.5 million, while French Muslim organizations estimate the number is closer to seven million among France's population of roughly 60 million.

Today, France is beginning to see large ethnic brands entering the marketplace. Beauty-products giant L'Oréal SA introduced a cosmetics line tailored to blacks in the French market in 2001 but at first only sold it in specialty shops. L'Oréal, which does brisk business with such products in the U.S., since has begun selling them in major French retail chains. Franck Provost, a chain of hair salons, plans to open a spa with an ethnic beauty salon in September at Galeries Lafayette, an upscale Paris department store.

However, no other French firm has openly compiled ethnic and religious data to facilitate multicultural marketing. Mr. Despres is treading on delicate turf and is encountering some stiff resistance.

"To say 'You are black. You are white,' or to ask the question is only to discriminate," says Samuel Thomas, vice president of SOS Racisme, an antidiscrimination lobbying group. He says SOS Racisme vehemently opposes ethnic-marketing research.

To blunt these sensitivities, Sopi has put together an independent ethics committee to review ideas such as its next planned study, a survey of French Muslims' halal-meat eating preferences and habits. Sopi employees also are trained to preface their questions with a warning: "I will be asking you some very indiscreet questions, like your race and the origin of your parents."

Before even putting together its questionnaire and starting its research, Sopi spent a full year preparing the French public, says the company's project head, Cecile Maugars. The firm's employees marched in street demonstrations supporting diversity. Mr. Despres spoke at round-table sessions, participated in debates and gave interviews on the topic. "We made zero money, but we had to spend time preparing people, letting them know who we are, where we stand," Ms. Maugars says.

Mr. Despres says Sopi has garnered mounting interest in the past few months. It has received a growing number of calls from companies and marketing firms interested in reaching France's minority consumers.

One of its clients is Budget Telecom, a discount-telecommunications operator. "We hadn't ever focused on ethnic marketing before because we couldn't find anyone who specialized in it," says Budget Telecom's marketing director, Jose Caballero. He says he hopes Sopi's expertise will help him find more customers who regularly call foreign countries.

Posted by too true 2005-05-18 9:07:17 AM|| E-Mail|| Front Page|| Top

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