Il fait beau dans l’métro

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(I first posted about Il fait beau dans l’métro last April. Today, an article was published with a more in-depth look at the advertisement.)

A troupe of exuberant dancers isn’t what most commuters expect when they descend into the métro. But there they were, in Il fait beau dans l’métro, an iconic 1976 television advertisement that was a triumph of public transit geekery, gaudy fashion and vintage Québécois kitsch.

The advertisement opens with the familiar sight of a métro car entering Atwater station. A troupe of lively dancers jumps out, singing, “Il fait beau dans l’métro, tout le monde est gai, tout le monde a le coeur au soleil.” The métro’s distinctive three-tone chime – created by air rushing out of the brakes when trains leave the station – is incorporated into the tune.

You would think that this ad would be long forgotten. In the last year, however, Il fait beau dans l’métro has won a new generation of fans online, part of a burgeoning trend of nostalgia for public transit imagery and pop culture kitsch from the 1960s and ’70s.

The ad has racked up more than 100,000 views on YouTube and it has been featured on most of Montreal’s most widely read blogs. On Facebook, a group devoted to the ad has attracted close to 600 members.

Andrew Martin and Michael Baillargeon, undergraduate students at McGill University, created the Facebook group this year.

“I am a rapid-transit nerd, with interests in advertising, musicals, and costumes, so naturally I became an instant fan of the clip,” said Martin.

“It was Michael who took the initiative to start the Facebook group. Part of the original intention was to get a group of people to go down and reenact the ad. Sadly, to my knowledge, this has yet to take place.”

(But when more than 100 people flocked to the métro for a dance party on the Orange Line this year, Il fait beau dans l’métro was apparently part of the soundtrack.)

For Martin, originally from suburban Vancouver, and Baillargeon, whose family lives in Bermuda, Il fait beau dans l’métro somehow captured the essence of the métro and its unabashedly dated decor.

“Seeing the clip complements the experience of riding Montreal’s métro,” said Martin. “The system is so cool, having retained its old retro style.”

Kitschy public transit advertisements were common in the 1970s and ’80s. Some can be found on YouTube.

In the 1980s, for instance, the Régie autonome des transports parisiens launched a series of surreal ads that revolved around the métro’s yellow magnetic-stripe ticket.

Around the same time, Milwaukee produced a TV ad that featured actor George Takei as Star Trek’s Lt. Sulu: “When I’m out in space,” Takei said in the ad, “I use the Starship Enterprise to get around. When I’m here in Milwaukee, I ride the bus to save time and money.”

Il fait beau dans l’métro was created by BCP, a Montreal-based ad firm whose founder, Jacques Bouchard, pioneered the use of distinctly Québécois cultural references in French-language ad campaigns.

“BCP’s role was enormous,” recalled Marie-Claude Ducas, editor of Infopresse, a marketing magazine. “It was the first Québécois ad company. It played into the Quebec star system and even helped build it.”

“It was a formula: you needed a good jingle and a couple of well-known people and you had a hit,” said Yves Gougoux, BCP’s current president.

By 1976, BCP had launched several hugely successful ad campaigns whose slogans became catchphrases in Quebec.

For the Montreal Urban Community Transit Commission, the goal was simple: associate Montreal’s bus and subway system with the francophone cultural renaissance that was under way at the time.

To do that, BCP hired dancers from the Grands Ballets Canadiens, brought in two rising TV stars, Marc Messier and Christine Lamer, and crafted a catchy jingle.

“It’s one of the slogans that people remember,” said Ducas. “It’s so catchy that people identify it with the era. They still repeat it and it still appears in the media.”

According to Gougoux, Il fait beau dans l’métro crafted a brand identity for the bus and métro system that lasted for years.

“At the time, taking the métro was for people who couldn’t afford a car. We wanted to say that it was always warm, sunny and pleasant in the subway. Ads like this give life to brands.”

Today’s public transit network lacks such innovative promotion, he said.

“I don’t think they’re doing a great job right now. There’s not a lot of advertising of its services. I don’t recall anything on buses, on TV, but we need to explain the network. If the brand doesn’t talk, it becomes what the media and the public says it is.”

Isabelle Trottier, director of marketing for the Montreal Transit Corp., blames a lack of funding in the 1990s and early 2000s for the relative absence of public transit advertising.

The last big advertising campaign, she explained, was in 1993, when the bus network was completely reconfigured. Now, though, all three levels of government are concerned about climate change – and they’re willing to shell out more money for transit.

“There’s a wind of change,” said Trottier. “The STM really wants to implement more aggressive marketing strategies.”

Currently, the MTC is building partnerships with major events, like the Just for Laughs festival, and businesses, at which it hands out free métro passes. In 2008, though, it plans an ambitious marketing campaign to coincide with the introduction of new bus and métro services and the launch of a new smart-card payment system.

The details are still under wraps, but Trottier dismisses any suggestion that the MTC will try to build on the kind of nostalgia inspired by Il fait beau dans l’métro.

“We need to develop a message that will tap into the preoccupations of Montrealers today and capture their attention for the next 40 years,” she said.

Still, among many young transit users, there seems to be a growing interest in public transit pop culture.

In Toronto, Spacing magazine has created a popular series of buttons based on the signage and design motifs in different subway stations.

“I have no doubt that we’ve elevated the appreciation of the city’s subway stations,” said Matt Blackett, Spacing’s publisher.

“What we were able to do is show that the subway font and designs were iconic,” he said.

“We also discovered that people have very personal connections to certain stations. Sometimes it’s because of a girlfriend or boyfriend, a job, school, home.”

People obviously like the buttons “because we’ve sold around 75,000 in over two years,” he said.

Here in Montreal, the Jenx & Co. store at Clark and Bernard Sts. sells two métro-themed T-shirts, including one that features the métro logo turned sideways, above the inscription “Rétro.” According to the boutique’s owner, David Jenkins, it has been one of the most consistently popular designs since it was introduced five years ago.

Even Martin and Baillargeon hope to turn their appreciation of Il fait beau dans l’métro into something tangible: they are currently working to produce a T-shirt design based on the advertisement. They think it still holds sway as a brand.

“To be perfectly honest with you, I think it would be a great ad to run in its original form to get people thinking about taking the bus or the métro,” said Baillargeon.

Gougoux certainly understands the ad’s impact, even among people, like Martin and Baillargeon, who are too young to have seen it in the 1970s. “They’re confronted by all these problems today and they say, ‘Those baby boomers had it good.’ I would be fired if I tried to do this ad today. But back then it was fantastic. It captured the essence of a time when everything was possible.”

This article originally appeared in the October 15, 2007 edition of the Montreal Gazette.

One part of the STM’s latest marketing effort went unmentioned in the article, but it might be of interest to some of you: during the Festival du nouveau cinéma, which runs until the 23rd, STM pass holders get a two-for-one deal on all matinée films.

Also, for anyone interested, the STM has a page on their website outlining all of its past ad campaigns. Unfortunately, it’s only in French, which means that some English campaigns might be missing. Over at Montreal City Weblog, for instance, Kate McDonnell alludes to an English equivalent to Il fait beau that went something like this:

Let’s go by metro
Let’s go by the bus
Let’s go by metro, by metro, by the bus.

Does anyone have more information?

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Monday October 15 2007at 12:10 pm , filed under Canada, Society and Culture, Transportation and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

5 Responses to “Il fait beau dans l’métro”

  • Fagstein says:

    The three-tone sound of the metro trains leaving the station isn’t caused by the brakes (there are physical and electromagnetic breaking systems which are both very quiet), but my the motors. The MR-73 trains use a current chopper to gradually add power to the motor and prevent surges.

    And it’s actually five tones, though many people don’t hear the first two because their frequency is so low (I find myself hearing all the tones more frequently now – maybe my hearing range is getting lower)

    The other thing to remember is that this sound is only on the MR-73 trains (for the most part – there’s also a single 9-car MR-63 train that produces a similar sound), which were delivered the same year this ad was produced. So the doo-doo-doo was new and exciting back then, and not so much an established sound.

  • Fagstein says:

    Another thing worth mentioning is that the video resurfaced online after Infopresse uploaded videos of Bouchard’s BCP ads as a memorial. From there it was copied to YouTube and spread like wildfire.

    Others (including the really catchy and cheesy Montréal Matin song) are available here.

    It’s one of the reasons ad companies should be putting all sorts of vintage TV ads online.

  • Thanks for the clarifications, Steve. I knew that only the MR-73 trains made that sound, but I had no idea that it was actually five tones.

    Infopresse got the ball rolling but I guess BCP has taken a hint and made many of their iconic TV ads available on their website, too.

  • kristin says:

    I’m excited that the sound making of the métro has been cleared up, as some friends and I were wondering about its source just last week.

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