France: From “Yes we Can!” to “Yes you Must!”

Amazed Parisians are still reeling after discovering billboards featuring President Sarkozy, pictured as U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, after Shepard Fairey's famous poster, with the wonders working comment Yes We Can!


The JDD website, a paper close to the government, notes:

Des affiches représentant un portrait de Nicolas Sarkozy au-dessus de la mention “Yes, we can!”, slogan de campagne du président américain élu Barack Obama, fleurissent depuis quelques jours dans Paris. Un portrait peint dans les tons bleu-blanc-rouge du président français est représenté sur chaque affiche et les mots “Yes, we can!” sont écrits en réponse à différentes questions telles que “Une énergie propre et durable en Europe?“, “Faire économiser 1000 euro/an à chaque ménage?” ou “Créer trois millions d'emplois non délocalisables en Europe?“. Des porte-parole au siège de l'UMP et à la Fédération de l'UMP de Paris ont affirmé ne pas être à l'origine de cet affichage sauvage.

Posters featuring a portrait of Nicolas Sarkozy on top of the comment Yes, we can!, American President-elect Barack Obama's campaign slogan, have been spreading for a few days in Paris. A portrait of the French president in blue-white-red tones is pictured on every poster and the words Yes, we can! are written as an answer to several questions, such as: «Clean and lasting energy in Europe?», «Allow every household to save 1000 Euro a year?» or «Create three million jobs in Europe that will not be relocated?». Spokespersons at UMP (the current majority party) headquarters and the UMP Federation of Paris claimed they did not initiate this campaign.


As the infamous posters crossed the Atlantic three days later, via a contributor to Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish on The Atlantic, naming Sarkozy “nothing if shameless,” the buzz started growing in some media and on the French blogosphere. 

Some cool stuffs, a blog about graphic arts, and more, follows up on the story, saying he was outraged.

Assuming Sarkozy and/or the UMP are behind the posters, the blogger words a scathing attack against this takeover of  Obey aka Shepard Fairey's notorious creation for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, denouncing…

un leader politique, cynique au point de détourner à son profit une image qui disait fondamentalement le contraire de ce qu'elle dit aujourd'hui, maintenant que sa tronche remplace celle d'Obama […]

a political leader, cynical to the point of taking over for his own benefit an image which said basically the contrary of what it says today, now that his face stands for Obama's  […]  


 Electrostories showed  pictures of the poster displays, stressing the eco-friendly inspiration of their proposals, recalled the original poster with its word Hope and 150 hilarious posters it generated with various characters and slogans, and noted:

Un happening plutôt original dans la démarche !

A rather original development in its approach! 

The websites of a few mainstream media joined in. Weekly L'Express pondered business and law issues, but doubted that a big environment company would want to launch an illegal flyposting, and recalled that using the president's image without his permission can be very costly, adding:

Cela ressemble en tous cas à une belle opération de buzz.    

Anyway, it looks like a great buzz campaign. 

Updating late on Monday night, the magazine expressed its feeling of having been manipulated:

Surtout, en vous demandant de nous aider à le résoudre, nous savions vaguement que tout cela ne devait, au mieux, n'être pas sérieux, au pire, entrer dans un subtil plan marketing.

Especially when we asked you to help us solve it, we slightly felt that all this would, at best not be very serious, at worst be part of a subtle marketing operation.  

Marianne2 wondered whether it is a business buzz for green economy and stresses: 

Les quartiers où l'affiche a été placardée n'ont pas été choisis au hasard  […] Tous à gauche, tous “obamaniacs”. […] Le service de communication de l'ONG Greenpeace, occupée à une autre campagne, dément également être à l'origine de cette opération.                               

The areas where the posters were stuck were not chosen by chance […] All left-side, all «obamaniacs». […] NGO Greenpeace's PR department, busy with another campaign, also denied to have initiated the operation.


With hours passing, the action prompted comments ranging from thorough analysis to mere sarcasm. André Gunthert, from EHESS, an upscale research institution, writes under the title: Sarkobama, a meaningless picture ?  an in-depth analysis  from a “visual history” point of view.

His conclusion :

Quel que soit son véritable objectif, tout se passe comme si sa lecture était contaminée par le second degré. Cette oscillation tient probablement à la nature de son message explicite – la peinture de Sarkozy en Obama – qui ne peut passer que pour sa propre caricature.                               

Whatever [the poster's] real target, everything turns out as if  its meaning was contaminated by tongue-in-cheek humour. This oscillation is likely to stem from its explicit message – Sarkozy pictured as Obama – which only can be taken for its own caricature. 

Satirical bloggers, such as sarkostique, also chose the tongue-in-cheek explanation:

[…] Il a l'air tellement ridicule ainsi.  […] En tous cas, y avait mieux à faire comme slogan.[…]                              

He looks so ridiculous that way […] Anyway, there would have been better slogans…

Is the incident political after all, as some latest developments could suggest? On Tuesday afternoon, on Twitter, the mystery seemed almost unveiled. After more photos posted on Flickr “galerie de photos de Sarkobama“,  and even a video of shadows sticking up the posters, 

a sarkobama blog appeared, writing:

Tout d'abord, nous devons vous avouer que nous sommes assez surpris du buzz que nous avons créé bien malgré nous. Le but initial de nos affichages était de montrer aux parisiens les similitudes frappantes qu'il existe entre Barack Obama et Nicolas Sarkozy.  […]    La sarkobama team                       

First, we must confess to you that we feel rather surprised by the buzz we created  much against our will. The initial aim of our postings was to show Parisians the striking similarities existing between Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy. […] The sarkobama team

A turn of events?  unique et commun was not convinced:

Non, franchement, comparer Nicolas Sarkozy, héritier illustre du Bushisme à la française, à Barack Obama, symbole d'un espoir d'un retour vers plus de justice sociale, plus de respect de la démocratie et des libertés politiques, comment ne pas créer le buzz?    

No, frankly, to compare Nicolas Sarkozy, illustrious heir of French-style Bushism, to Barack Obama, symbol of a hope of return to more social justice, more respect for democracy and public rights, that is the best way to create a buzz. 

Rue.89 underlined the parallel drawn by the “Sarkobama team” between a “Black (or mixed race according to some)” and “a dwarf of Hungarian extraction.” Would things turn politically ugly?

On wednesday morning, after a gallant last stand with accusations of usurpation and hacking between the “real” and “fake” Sarkobamas, the plot was finally revealed by L'Express itself:  

L'association écologique [Greenpeace] a révélé ce matin qu'elle était à l'origine de l'affichage sauvage, dans Paris, […]. Objectif: pousser les chefs d'Etat européens à retoquer le plan Climat/Energie.

Ecologist NGO Greenpeace gave away this morning being at the origin of the flyposting in Paris,  […]. The aim: To urge European heads of state to review the Climate/Energy Plan. (at the European summit of Dec. 11-12.) 



Bloggers take their hats off to Greenpeace's operation :

Politiciens, pour une fois, montrez la même énergie et intelligence que Greenpeace  dans cette campagne!  

Politicians, show for once the same energy and intelligence as Greenpeace did in this campaign! 


  • Philip Daniels

    Given who Obama’s putting into his Cabinet, I suggest we need to get ready to say “No You Don’t”.

    Commentators keep referring to Mrs Clinton’s experience — at what I ask? She’s never held a diplomatic post, she’s never worked as an academic in a relevant field, she’s not even been an intern at a foreign affairs think tank (e.g. Council on Foreign Relations), she’s never served in the military. So what it is that the commentators see as qualifying her to be SoS, surely not that she’s Mr Clinton’s wife .

    Obama’s economics team would seem to be populated with participants and cheerleaders for the very practices that have bought on the current financial crisis. So why should we have any expectations that they can even understand the causes of the crisis, let alone effect any remedies.

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