But will the Socialist candidate's "Mr Normal" presidential style really win over the citizens of a country often described as a kind of republican monarchy because of the sweeping powers enjoyed by its head of state?
A year ago Hollande himself described his vision of the role. "You must be close to the people and at the same time respected, and for that you have to be respectable.... Not humdrum, but serious, stable and unifying," he said.
Centrist Dominique Paille, a former spokesman for Sarkozy's right-wing UMP party who quit a year ago, said: "Being close to the French means having a lifestyle that doesn't give the impression you belong to a privileged class."
"You must respect the principle of equality to which the French are viscerally attached," Paille said.
Hollande's image of the "normal" president is in stark and deliberate contrast to that of the incumbent, Sarkozy, who has become seen as a flashy, "bling-bling" friend of tycoons, said Paille.
Hollande has cultivated his "normal" image since the start of the campaign, pressing the flesh during walkabouts with light security in order to "stay connected" with the French, travelling by train rather than plane.
When Valery Giscard d'Estaing entered the Elysee Palace in 1974 he also vowed to change the presidential style.
In a bid to change his aristocratic image, he had dinner with "average" French and had no problem appearing bare chested after a football match.
But while Giscard d'Estaing also wanted to appear modern, Hollande is "anti-modern in the sense that he is not obsessed with appearance," said sociologist Dominique Wolton.
"Like numerous German chancellors or even Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, he embodies a cultural identity his fellow citizens can identify with," he said.
But, beyond the symbolism, a "normal" president is about a profoundly different way of exercising power.
"A normal president must be an exemplary president," Hollande said.
"He can't decide everything, do his prime minister's job, nor can he decide which journalists present the television news, he can't nominate our country's top judges," he said.
While Sarkozy was criticised for calling his prime minister a mere "colleague", Hollande has promised he will let the head of his government act independently and lead the campaign for parliamentary elections in June.
Hollande has said he will slash the president's salary by a third and remove the judicial immunity currently enjoyed by the head of state.
He has even criticised France's only previous Socialist president, Francois Mitterrand, who was never prosecuted for an illegal phone tapping scandal and had an illegitimate daughter raised at the state's expense.
"His way of exercising power often shocked me," Hollande said of his one-time political mentor.
But will Hollande really manage to stick to his promised presidential style if elected? "I will take care not to change. I love people more than money," he insisted.