Supermarket Ruffles Feathers With a Very Strange Parable About a Heavy Boy Who Wants to Fly

Edeka presents 'Eatkarus'

Headshot of Angela Natividad

It’s not often that supermarket ads break the glass barrier of their home countries, but German supermarket Edeka swings it systematically. It has shown it can touch our hearts, make us laugh, bring the mundane to life and even appeal to our darker selves. It’s a brand that’s as curious and dynamic as the people it’s addressing.

Edeka’s latest ad, “Eatkarus,” is a strange combination of all those things. Eatkarus is a play on Icarus, the tale of a boy who flew too close to the sun. In this case, Eatkarus is an Augustus Gloop-looking chap—in an equally Gloopy family and town—who encounters a bird and dreams of flying, too.

Everyone is uncomfortably overweight in the fantasy world, created by agency Jung von Matt, and we quickly discover why: They subsist on a nutrient-bereft gray sludge that conveniently stands in for all the food we eat, just to eat, without thinking, as we go about our Very Busy Lives. Meanwhile, Eatkarus makes multiple (failed) attempts to fly, winning nothing but scorn for his efforts.

Then he sees his feathered friend and has an epiphany.

The closing copy reads, “Eat like the person you want to become,” which sums up the ad’s last half. Eatkarus sees the bird eating berries and concludes that he, too, will eat only berries. Perhaps this is the secret to aerodynamics! (It’s not.)

If you’ve ever been a Girl or Boy Scout, or just a kid who’s spent some time outside, you probably know it’s best not to eat berries you don’t know much about. But this argument is outside the logic of “Eatkarus,” whose tagline is itself so simplistic that it skirts the matter of healthful eating entirely and reduces it to losing weight through what’s basically an all-berry diet.

It’s a weirdly childlike approach, but even content made for children has advanced beyond messages this facile; Pixar would have been more nuanced. (Remember how Wall-E ended?)

Anyway, you can probably guess that the berries make a difference. Eatkarus slims down and manages to take flight. We all live happily ever after, and ostensibly forego our everyday mush for something fresher and closer to nature. (Or at least just berries.)

“Eatkarus” has generated nearly 3 million views on YouTube since it went live on Valentine’s Day. On Facebook, it’s doing better still, with 37 million views and 257,000 reactions.

Responses on social were so varied that Edeka’s had time to address many of the concerns we raised here, including that nagging berry thing: “Sometimes kids are smarter than we think,” the brand says with a fetching emoji wink. “If you look closely, you’ll see the boy doesn’t eat the berries he finds.”

Unsurprisingly, “Eatkarus” has also drawn criticism from people who feel it’s engaging in the blood sport of fat-shaming, and that’s fair. (Eatkarus, anyone?) There are many ways to be unhealthy that don’t express themselves in obesity, but we’ve already established that this isn’t profoundly nuanced storytelling.

In its defense, Edeka sent out the following statement:

We regret if we offended someone with our video. This was not our intention and we definitely don’t want to discriminate against obese people. Our video is purely fictional and exaggerates deliberately. Our aim was to increase consciousness for a healthy and balanced diet. With this kind of exaggeration we just wanted to stir up the daily life of too much fast and junk food. Our message goes out to all kinds of people, no matter their size and weight.

Every great brand has the right to blunder, even Edeka, and it compensates by being quick to respond, striking just the right balance between well-meaning and contrite.

The best we can do with “Eatkarus” is take it for the fairy tale it is. Edeka has built a reputation itself out of flying a hair too close to the sun, but like its stalwart hero, it usually gets back up and goes on taking risks. Most of them pay off.

In the end, a brand like that is better than one that takes a single risk, freaks out at the response, and reduces itself to flooding your Facebook with #foodporn.

Brand: Edeka
Agency: Jung von Matt
Production: Tempomedia
Director: Alex Feil

@luckthelady Angela Natividad is a frequent contributor to Adweek's creativity blog, AdFreak. She is also the author of Generation Creation and co-founder of Hurrah, an esports agency. She lives in Paris and when she isn't writing, she can be found picking food off your plate.