The Depardieu controversy.
Gérard Depardieu is leaving France and it’s the psychodrama of the week. Everyone has something to say, ministers, actors, journalists, and ordinary citizens solicited during repetitive street interviews. Everyone tries to find a more or less successful way to describe a news item that is so crucial for France that it has been making the headlines for several days.
At CLAI, we would especially like to thank Gérard Depardieu. Because he offers us the best-case study we could wish to demonstrate the power of a brand.
Gérard Depardieu is neither the first nor the last to go into tax exile. He is neither the richest nor the most powerful. But he is “Gégé”. And Gégé is much more than an actor, he is a brand with its own attributes and values. Apple can sell its products at a more expensive price because it is Apple. Obelix can only be interpreted by Depardieu because he is Gérard (in the three Asterix films, only Obelix is played by the same actor. Asterix changes with each film, but, as the critics explain, Obelix is Gérard). By building up an image of a working-class son saved by the cinema, of a “bon vivant”, of a loudmouth, by cultivating his French cheekiness, Gérard Depardieu has established himself not only as a figure of French cinema, but as a figure of France. We can easily forgive him his mischiefs, we’ll laugh when he falls off, drunk, from a scooter or causes incidents in an aircraf, that’s part of his character. But he can’t leave France to establish himself in Belgium. Not him. Obelix is the France that resists and holds on against all odds, not the France that gives up and flees abroad.
Gérard Depardieu should have been reminded that the power of a brand can have a boomerang effect. Others have experienced this and could have reminded him of that: Club Med for example, a strong brand, associated with idleness and quality. When Club Med launched Oyyo, the “low cost” villages for young people, it failed by launching itself in a segment in contradiction with its image and suffered a media scandal disproportionate compared to the failed experience of a hundred holidaymakers. The same is true for Gérard Depardieu: he is no longer just an actor to whom we owe respect. He is a brand, praised or hated. And when he announces his departure for Belgium, by shattering his brand image, he risks losing his audience, which is also his business, and this should reduce his taxable income in the future, regardless of his tax residence.