What accent sells the most cars? (by Michaela Salmon)

When we first started the blog, the BILD group discussed the types of topics and ideas that we wanted to discuss here. Alison spoke about the concept of “sociolinguistic noticing”; here we have a platform to share the little instances of language use that we notice around us in the day-to-day, from our perspective as critical sociolinguists (for example, see Lauren’s post from Australia last year, where she a business was promoting “accent training”, or a collection of Alison’s sociolinguistic noticings here). I would like to contribute something I recently noticed myself, and encourage all of you to consider your own response to this instance.  

In recent weeks, I’ve been lazy. It’s getting colder and I have so many books to lug back and forth between work and home that I must admit I have succumbed to taking my car to work more often, and riding my bike less. As a result, after a long summer of biking around the city, I’ve been re-exposed to the world of commercial radio.

Usually, I flip between stations – English, pop, rock, French, the news, hip hop, rap – trying to find some music between the endless ads. But there is one advertisement that has consistently caught my ear every time it comes on.

A car ad. It’s pretty standard; one voice gives information about the dealership and so on, the other is the “customer”, waxing lyrical about the great deal that he has received. But there are a couple of stand-out details. This is an English-speaking ad played on English language radio stations in Montreal, so presumably they are targeting English-speaking listeners. Similarly, the first voice (presumably a representative of the dealership) speaks with a standard Canadian English accent. In contrast, the voice of the “customer” is an almost caricatured French-Québécois accent; that is, a French Quebecer speaking English with a very thick accent. Think absence of “h” sounds, “th” sounding like a “d”, and so on.

It stood out to me at first for featuring a Québécois accent on an English speaking station. But what I really found intriguing was the fact that two distinct accents are used side-by-side; this was clearly a conscious choice on the part of the marketing team.

But I don’t quite know how to feel about it. Presumably we are supposed to trust the “customer’s” recommendation that these are great deals on the cars and therefore bring our business there. I’m curious about why the company views this particular voice as being more effective when selling to an English-speaking market. Is the assumption that French Quebecers are more knowledgeable when it comes to cars? Are they trying to make the company sound more “local”? Could it even perhaps be a way to unite those from both French and English speaking backgrounds?

Have you ever come across the use of particular accents being used as a marketing technique? Has your own accent been used to sell something in particular? And for those of you living in Montreal, have you heard this advertisement on the radio recently? What is your interpretation of the situation?

Finally, if you have some sociolinguistic noticing of your own, please let us know! Leave a comment below!

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