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Warner Bros. Knew Exactly What They Were Doing With That Perky French ‘Barbie’ Poster — Here’s Why

When a new international poster for Greta Gerwig is coming Barbie The movie hit the internet last week and went viral, apparently for all the wrong reasons.

The French version of the poster looks harmless enough. It features star Margot Robbie as the pink-clad doll come to life and Ryan Gosling as her blond sidekick Ken. But the French slogan: “she Elle peut tout faire. Lui, c’est juste Ken” – which means “She can do everything. It’s just Ken” — has a double meaning of NSFW in French slang, where ken is another word for “fuck”. So the slogan becomes: “She knows how to do everything. She just knows how to fuck.

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Read this way, Gerwig’s PG-13 comic satire becomes an R-rated raunchy sex comedy.

French Barbie poster

The French poster for Barbie.

Warner Bros.

The Internet, being the Internet, has taken advantage of all of this. Several French Twitter users tweeted photos of the posters with comments about the “accidental” or “unfortunate” translation. Naturally, it went viral, with some of the original tweets being viewed millions of times.

Just why this is so much fun for French speakers requires some explaining. In the so-called “VerlanIn the slang, which first became popular in the 1980s, French words are given new meaning by changing the order in which the syllables are pronounced. Fall (fall) becomes beton (concrete). In this case, fornicate or its shortened version, Fuck you (fuck) becomes Who OR HAVEwhich over time was shortened to just ken.

Then, in Barbie tagline, “He, c’est juste Ken” changes its meaning because this is (he is) and sait (knows how) are homophones. “He’s just Ken” becomes “he just knows how to fuck”.

In France, the Barbie the poster evoked little shock and outrage—it takes more than a vulgar pun to scare La Grande Nation—and, initially, most francophones thought the double entender was the result of a mistranslation or too literal. But the pun was so obvious… ken since the slang for “fuck” is common parlance for anyone under 30 in France, many have begun to suspect that the poster’s NSFW message was a deliberate act of guerrilla marketing.

A closer look at the tagline seems to confirm this. Barbie’s original English slogan is: “Barbie is everything. She’s just Ken. But the French translation of the first line is not “Barbie est tout” (“Barbie is everything”), the literal translation, but “(Barbie) peut tout faire” (“Barbie can do anything”), a line that fits good to Ken’s slang line with the dirty connotations.

“It’s definitely intentional; there’s no way a francophone hasn’t noticed the dirty pun,” says a French marketing executive at a rival studio The Hollywood Reporterremarking admiringly, “It’s kind of a genius, really, that they put that in.”

When asked for comment, Warner Bros. refused to confirm or deny whether the vulgar French pun was intentional or accidental. But they didn’t hide their delight at the social media uproar the poster generated, in France and abroad.

“The speculation around the Barbie marketing campaign demonstrates that there is a high level of awareness and great enthusiasm from the public for the upcoming release of our film in France,” said a Warner Bros. Discovery spokesperson. “We look forward to the audiences around the world see the film when it is released next month.”