Ad of the Day: This Remarkable Ad About Loneliness Rejects the Future of Robot Caregivers

French spot strives for a human connection

If you're gnawing at the bit for the return of Black Mirror, you'll find brief gratification in "BEN (Bionically Engineered Nursing)," an ad that offers a brief glimpse into the world of a woman and her care robot. 

Directed by David Wilson, and created by agency CLM BBDO for the Society of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, the film introduces us to Claudine. When the story opens, she is dancing forlornly in her living room with BEN, her nurse.

The rest of the video takes us a day backward, then guides us back to that moment. 

The most remarkable thing about this tiny snapshot in a life is its subtlety. Wilson resists the temptation to suggest a mutual emotional bond between the two characters; there is only what we ourselves project to be there. And while BEN is an intuitive caregiver, an abject loneliness permeates the story—the inevitable disconnect between human and machine. 

This is best illustrated in the scene that explains why the pair are found dancing. That morning, Claudine ignores several wake-up calls. Over a listless breakfast, BEN tells her that her unresponsiveness has driven him to inform her doctor. 

"Ben … I'm sorry," Claudine says. "I'm … I just needed that moment this morning."

Without missing a beat, BEN leans in and replies, "Would you like to watch some TV, Claudine?" Then he tries again: "Claudine, would you like to dance?" 

A human caregiver would perhaps have known to read between the lines. BEN has clearly been well prepared for such moments, but the error in between is enough to underline the glaring fact that he simply can't relate. 

"BEN" came out on Sept. 27, Saint Vincent de Paul's Day, to recruit volunteers to combat loneliness, which affects one in eight people in France (about 5 million individuals). 

A few years ago, people balked at the knowledge that electronic seals were being used in Japan to "assist" retirement home residents; they are now being tested in the U.K. Back in Japan, the use of robotics in elderly care is advancing. One solution, Robear, is even being pitted against human immigrants as a long-term healthcare solution. Robear could easily look and behave the way BEN does in very little time. 

Almost two-thirds of French people cite individual engagement as a primary tool against isolation, and it would appear that Japan—for all its advances in the caregiving arena—is no different. In a Saint-Vincent-de-Paul survey of 650 people on the relationship between French and Japanese people to technology, respondents were asked whether they felt a robot could help manage daily chores.

Some 88 percent of Japanese people said yes, compared to about 60 percent of the French. This is perhaps unsurprising. More so was the response to whether a robot could help prevent loneliness—62 percent of respondents across the board said no. 

"BEN" concludes with a strong call to action: "Today, companion robots are being introduced to assist lonely people. At Society of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, we think that only human being [sic] can help in fighting loneliness." 

Volunteers are invited to visit SSVP.FR for more information.

CREDITS

Client: Society of Saint-Vincent-De-Paul

Michel Lanternier – Chairman, Society of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul

Emmanuelle Duthu – Director of Communications and Resource Development

Capucine Bataille – Communications Manager

Jean-Charles Mayer – Digital Communications Manager

Agency – CLM BBDO

Matthieu Elkaim – Creative Director, BBDO Paris

Charles Dessaux – Art Director

Emile Martin – Copywriter

Julien Sanson – Production Director, BBDO Paris

Martine Ferey – Post Producer, BBDO Paris

Julien Lemoine – Vice President

Julien Pinet – Account Manager