April 6, 2011 | French

I Hate the New Burlington Coat Factory Ad

Do we really need to disparage multilingualism to sell clothes?

Here I was just now, minding my own business, studying French vocabulary for weights and measures (i.e., “ton,” “millimeter,” “mouthful,” etc.) with the television on in the background, when all of a sudden an ad caught my attention. 

Café Saint Honoré Today, Upper West Side

Café Saint Honoré Today, Upper West Side

DVR capabilities are a great thing. 

The ad, for Burlington Coat Factory, goes like this. Two women, strangers to each other, are standing at the condiments area of someplace where they have apparently just purchased coffee or tea. One of them, a supercilious white woman, reaches across the other, a light-skinned black woman, for something for her drink, and says, “Merci.”

The other woman, who is down to earth and spunky, looks at her and says, “Cute accent.”

The supercilious woman then says, in weirdly accented English, “My native tongue is French, but I actually speak four languages fluently.”

The spunky woman says, “Really? I got my girls four dresses for fifty bucks at Burlington. Parlez-vous good deal?”

Next you leave this scene and hear from a disembodied voice: “Impressive brands and styles for your whole family, all at up to 60 percent off department store prices every day. Now that’s really something to brag about. Burlington. Brag about it.”

More Upper West Side French (Name Means Cotton Counter)

More Upper West Side French (Name Means Cotton Counter)

I absolutely hate this ad. It is goofy, but overall it plays the themes straight and, I think, is meant to be understood pretty literally; there is no campiness or irony. It makes the multilingual person a white, snotty bitch, which is irksome, and the other woman—the nice one, the one you could perhaps imagine yourself hanging out with—the representative of self-righteous monolingualism.

I’m not saying it’s bad to be monolingual, but do we really have to stoop to disparaging people who are not? The commercial seems so shockingly typical of the worst stereotypes of American culture, in which knowledge-bashing and shopping are favorite sports.

I admire people who know things. I admire people who are nice. Many people who know things are nice, and I hate the too-easy equation of knowledge and snobbishness. 

Why couldn’t this company have pitted something that is actually crappy, like crass materialism, or perhaps meanness without the multilingualism, against the good deal? Why link multilingualism and snobbery and bad behavior? I would like to see the ad redone with a multilingual person who gets a good deal for her daughters while also being nice to monolingual strangers at coffee bars.

Oh, yeah, and also: it is so trite to bash French people (this includes non-French actors playing French people).

I don’t like your ad, Burlington Coat Factory. I don’t like it at all.

Comments (31)

Dana Tolman • Posted on Thu, April 07, 2011 - 3:03 pm EST

Note that the American woman is an African-American. I just saw this ad and was looking for it and came across this blog. Yes, it does make “skilled” people look snobby but it also makes the African-American culture look stupid because they are more interested in material things according to this commercial. My observation. I mean really, who is getting the short end of the stick on this one? I think it’s the African-American (and we can include all Americans too..) peoples.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, April 07, 2011 - 4:43 pm EST

Thank you for your post, Dana. From a racial point of view, this is an unfortunate ad for sure.

By the way, in case anyone else wants to watch the commercial, I see it is currently up on the company’s website at

joe schmoe • Posted on Thu, April 07, 2011 - 8:52 pm EST

Oh, lighten up. It’s part of a series that contrasts pretentiousness and down-to-earth good deals, as is evident from the link you posted.  The African-American woman role-reverses as a snob in the follow-up yoga ad.  BTW - “Commptoir des cottonniers” means “Cotton-makers counter” not “Cotton counter.”  Bonne chance.

Lida • Posted on Thu, April 07, 2011 - 10:27 pm EST

I thought this ad was outrageous when I saw it too :(  very enraging!!
Too bad I used to like Burlington Coat Factory =/ ; I feel obliged to stand against them now, on principle. Well, there’s always other stores with good deals, like Marshalls or JC Penney, etc.

Pammy • Posted on Fri, April 08, 2011 - 9:41 am EST

It does upset me to see ignorance equal folksy righteousness. I can’t understand the kind of caveman attitude that regards multilingualism with suspicion and disdain. Not only does the monolingual woman only speak one language, but she speaks it in a slangy dialect.

Lisa T. • Posted on Mon, April 11, 2011 - 12:42 pm EST

if you haven’t seen it yet “Carlos” ( is sort of an anti Burlington Coat Factory commercial. First off, it’s running time is 5.5 hours and, secondly, the main character speaks 6 languages. During the course of the film you’ll hear: French, German, Spanish, English, Russian, Arabic, Japanese, and Hungarian. It’s by no means a feel good family film but it’s fast paced, well made, and perfect for viewing for extreme language learners.

Katherine • Posted on Mon, April 11, 2011 - 1:07 pm EST

I absolutely agree with you.  In my opinion it is racist and xenophobic.

EJ • Posted on Thu, April 14, 2011 - 4:59 am EST

It’s a bizarre commercial, to be sure. But even more surreal is people calling it racist, while identifying the American character as African American, when she is most likely biracial.

I’ve never had a French person describe me as black, but Americans absolutely insist upon it.

Michele • Posted on Thu, April 14, 2011 - 4:47 pm EST

I think you spent WAY too much analyzing a commercial.  The fun and campiness was from the woman mocking the richy bitchy-ness of the other woman…


david • Posted on Thu, April 14, 2011 - 9:54 pm EST

who is that gorgeous creature the african american woman??

summer thyme • Posted on Fri, April 15, 2011 - 8:04 pm EST

Seriously?  Its become a racial thing?  You see a black woman and a fair skinned woman and it has to be about race.  I think its just funny and I seriously doubt it was created to offend or down grade anyone.  Some people are always looking and expecting everything to be such a negative thing.  Lighten up and grow a funny bone.  So if the french speaking woman was black would it still be racist of if they were both black and spoke French then how would you twist it to a negative thing I am curious?

LSmith • Posted on Sat, April 16, 2011 - 12:23 am EST

My biggest issue with this ad has nothing to do with languages or race; it’s the fact that the American woman COMMENTED on the other woman’s accent, and the French woman simply responded with more information. So, it wasn’t really even bragging by the French woman—her response was one of a typical, everyday conversation. Therefore, Burlington provided no clear connection showing why, all of a sudden, the American started bragging, and what this was supposed to prove—let alone what it had to do with the store. Burlington really screwed up on this one! It’s like a complete waste of a 30-second story. I’ve never shopped there, but this is one of my least favorite ads of all time.

cindy • Posted on Sun, April 17, 2011 - 2:07 pm EST

Get a grip people can’t something be just be funny without bring up race, religion or politics. Maybe the problem with the world these days is we over think EVERYthing.

Nathalie Molina • Posted on Mon, April 18, 2011 - 7:58 am EST

It’s easy to call something funny and throw dig’s at people who don’t appreciate the way a group or topic is being mocked. Bottom line, advertising that alienates might make the ignorant masses laugh, but it definitely contributes to the rhetoric of intolerance (anyone turned on Fox news recently? Or seen the GOP email depicting the Obama’s as apes -also intended to be funny…lighten up everyone!) and the glamorization of ignorance (presented as the ‘every man’). There’s a whole cultural wave in the US depicting educated people as snobs because we use big words and often even using the word ‘intellectual’ in a disparaging way.

This is a great example of all of that wrapped into one fabulously disturbing specimen. Good job Burlington marketers for capturing the culture, bad job US citizens for letting it get so bad even marketers -notorious for being slow to catch on- see it and mirror it in their ads.

Would be interesting to see if the campaign is successful, I’d guess those of us offended are in the minority.

summer thyme • Posted on Mon, April 18, 2011 - 8:10 am EST

So you dont believe that the lady with accent was acting snob like when she was told about her accent being cute?  She did not only snub her nose she continued to brag that she spoke four languages fluently(i wish i could have typed that in a french accent) lol.  Its a funny commercial to me its one of my favorites.

Louise • Posted on Mon, April 18, 2011 - 8:48 am EST

I hate these commercials and have tried (unsuccessfully) to find out where to contact Burlington to complain.  I am offended by the de-valuing of knowledge/education in favor of materialism.  It makes all of America look stupid.

summer thyme • Posted on Mon, April 18, 2011 - 1:37 pm EST

I believe you all have taken it too far its cute and light hearted.  I myself am bilingual my husband is Haitien and speaks four languages with French as his first language and we tease each other every time it comes on.  As far is it being humor for the ignorant and the ignorant mocking them for being intelligent I guess that was not a very good way to not prove the snobbery.  Education has nothing to do with it.  The French lady acted as she was so much better since she spoke four languages.  So the other lady retaliated with the same snob like arrogance

As far as the Obama thing yes that was too far but also him and Bush do both resemble animals.  Did anyone see the text during campaigning that transformed from Bush to ape to Obama to ape?  But the fact that some one with high standing would send a message like that and most likely with the intent of prejudice is very low. 

Its one thing to degrade an entire race, it is highly unacceptable.  But a t.v. commercial with catty women is not the same in my opinion, no one was put down or insulted.  But some one will be offended anything new that comes out I guess advertising and media should be dull and straight to the point to keep from upsetting people. 

I feel the real discussion should be about all the sexy adds and sex targeted ads that are out here influencing our children to be promiscuous.  Also the television shows glamorizing teen pregnancy, now thats it a discussion!

Dr. Stevens • Posted on Mon, April 18, 2011 - 9:56 pm EST

that commercial so ghetto!!! I hate it so much! How the hell does someone feel as proud about saving money on dresses than the other woman does about knowing four languages.. It’s soooo trashy! I don’t get how you can brag abou about that!

celeste • Posted on Mon, April 18, 2011 - 11:17 pm EST

I doubt the multilingualism is really the issue, it’s the un-called-for bragging about it in public with no provocation that is really what the snob did wrong. lack of humility.  the other woman displays lack of humility as well and counters with a brag.

Mollye • Posted on Fri, April 22, 2011 - 6:24 pm EST

I completely agree with you about this commercial.  I feel the same way.  I’m bilingual in French and I don’t appreciate it on multiple levels.  It just plays on stereotypes that belittle multilingualism, the French, and Americans.  Why did they have to make the snobby woman French?  And why is it totally cool for the American to make a stupid comment about her children’s clothes?  If the commercial was just commenting on being snobby, couldn’t they have left out the French-American dynamic?  It would be one thing if the commercial was funny or entertaining in some way but it just wasn’t.

Shermakaye Bass • Posted on Tue, April 26, 2011 - 8:09 pm EST

Oh god, everybody, don’t we have many more things to worry about than this? I think the “Brag About It” campaign is cute, catchy and harmless. It’s light, seasonal. Whatever. It’s just a spunky advert campaign. It’s not the same as bombing Libya…
The cultural damage to which these disparagers refer (as if the campaign, itself, is creating some more-damaged version of America than already exists) was achieved/inflicted well outside of, and before, the small confines of any marketing campaign. We live in an incredibly divided country, made so much more so during the decade-long class-warfare waged by the 43rd American presidential administration.
You all sound like a bunch of rabid birthers. It’s just an f—-‘n commercial!

Am • Posted on Fri, April 29, 2011 - 6:13 pm EST

People who are not humble are not appealing to me. So these commercials are especially irritating, so much so I feel the need to say something about it.

K. • Posted on Sun, May 01, 2011 - 5:56 pm EST

I wonder how people would have reacted if it were a bilingual Hispanic woman?

judy • Posted on Wed, May 11, 2011 - 1:38 pm EST

I liked the 31 sec ad! If it had been 2 caucasion ladies or 2 black ladies, would it have been racist, NO. So, get your spoon out of the pot and quit stirring up negativity, when in our world there is surle something that is more pressing.

Charles • Posted on Thu, May 26, 2011 - 3:14 am EST

I’m enjoying reading your blog—backwards, it seems.

I must first apologize for how pedantic the following may sound; I definitely don’t mean it to be.

Concerning “Comptoir des cotonniers” it is perhaps better translated as “Cotton-dealers Syndicate.” Although “comptoir”, can mean “counter,” it can also mean a trading post or a syndicate. “Cotonnier” is someone who deals with cotton; it is also the name of the cotton plant.  “Coton” is the name of the fiber derived from this plant.

Good luck with your studies. I, for one, will definitely keep reading.

Ru Rome • Posted on Sat, May 28, 2011 - 7:18 am EST

Boasting is rude. And it’s sad when someone trying to one-up a boast has only a purchase at Burlington with which to compete.
  The Burlington “Brag About It” ads are in poor taste, promoting rudeness and envy, inferring that there are stuffy people who need to be told about a Burlington purchase, or that people who feel threatened by stuffy people should tell them about a Burlington purchase to feel better about themselves.
  Be pleased with yourself; you may find others more tolerable.

Kenn • Posted on Sat, May 28, 2011 - 8:59 am EST

You guys are so ridiculous. Anyone who looks at this ad and immediately you think race, you’re rasict! Get a damn grip! Its a commercial. Go stand on your soapbox elsewhere and preach about something that actually matters.

Katherine • Posted on Tue, May 31, 2011 - 9:26 am EST

I had no idea how many people get offended by other people being offended.  Who knew that getting offended could be so offensive? Thank you for showing me the error of my ways!  From now on if I am ever offended, I will keep it to myself so as not to offend others. I see now that the best way to deal with an issue is not to talk about it.  Thanks! Lesson learned everyone, lesson learned :)

d (as in dee) • Posted on Fri, June 17, 2011 - 11:12 am EST

The new commercial is FAR worse.  A play on a yoga term and ‘lookin’ good’....who is writing these ads?

nancy collins • Posted on Fri, October 11, 2013 - 3:52 pm EST

I think your commercials suck and make no sense whatsoever,

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Fri, October 11, 2013 - 6:56 pm EST

Nancy, just to be clear, I don’t make ‘em!

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