A crying baby is more likely to inspire angst than pleasure. But maybe in an effort to Pavlov us into thinking otherwise, U Supermarkets (or Système U) is hoping the distressing din will drive French customers to shop thoughtfully.
At the start of "La Vie en Rose," directed by Fredrik Bond for TBWA\Paris, a mother gives two energetic huffs and pushes out a spankin'-new human, whose first cry joins others in the maternity ward. As the ad progresses—and the screams build—it becomes easier to identify a melody: Edith Piaf's "La Vie en Rose," which the ad calls "France's iconic anthem of optimism."
In addition to this weird feat, the ad has the Birdman-like effect of appearing almost entirely as if were shot in one take. We travel through the maternity ward (which, even for a maternity ward, seems crammed with babies) and air ducts, into an elevator and ultimately land in the backseat of a car, where two lovestruck and sobbing parents coddle their inexplicably still-naked progeny.
"For happier generations tomorrow, let's shop responsibly today," a dissonantly calm voiceover says.
"La Vie en Rose" went live on Sunday across national TV here in France. Fun fact: We had to watch it at least 10 times to review it, and we don't even want to know how many times the creative team had to.
You may never get accustomed to the minute-long choir of crying (which can put people off baby-making just as much as the imagery warms hearts). And even if the connection between newborns, "La Vie en Rose" and grocery shopping feels tenuous, the ad's subtle emotional impact is difficult to shake off, partly because, apart from short-lived relief from the medical team at the start, no other adult you see ever smiles.
It's almost eerie. The strolling new mothers in the hallway look more pensive than joyful, the people in the elevator are clearly annoyed, and in one odd nursery shot, a row of adults stand behind new children like stoic soldiers while a doctor cradles another in front of them. Even at the end, the parents in the car could easily be mistaken for grievers if they weren't clutching their own miracle of life.
Paired with the nostalgic "anthem of optimism" and the tagline's call for "happier" generations, we're left with something more complicated than joy, fear, chagrin or gratitude—a mixture of all four that's probably truer to the notion of parenthood than most ads are willing to convey. One way to describe it would be a sense of looming, terrible responsibility.
From there, it gets easier to connect with the insight: When you become a parent, priorities change, and it does pay to be thoughtful when nourishing your family.
"This year's communication is developed through the prism of future generations," says the brand in a statement. "Better shopping ensures a better future for all of us, and especially for our children. This universal message reaffirms U's vision of a trade that benefits all—a vision that takes its full significance in the long run."
U Supermarkets is the fourth-largest food retail group in France, and prides itself on responsible trade between clients, partners and farmers. Like Italian retailer Benetton, it's hoping to build an identity on messages that are more about our role in the community than about buying their stuff.
In December, it launched #GenderFreeChristmas, an ad about supporting gender neutrality with toys, also by TBWA Paris.
Client: Sandrine Burgat, Laurène de Demandolx and Delphine Desmeulles
Agency: Luc Bourgery, Philippe Senejoux and Marianne Durand
Executive Creative Directors: Faustin Claverie and Benjamin Marchal
CEO Else: Maxime Boiron
TV Producer: Caroline Petruccelli
Production: Sonny London
Director: Fredrik Bond
VOP: Ryley Brown
Producer: Alicia Richards et Helen Kenny
Post production UK: Nineteen Twenty London
Post production Paris: Else
Color grading: Didier Lefouest @ Digital District
Head of music and sound: Olivier Lefebvre
Sound Director: Thomas Anduze