Monday, November 19, 2012

Man Ray vs. Brad Pitt

I'm sure that by now, you've seen the newest ad campaign for Chanel No. 5 featuring Brad Pitt. It premiered about a month ago and parodies have been rife. If you haven't seen, or would like to see it again,  take a look at the thirty-second spot, I'd love to know what you think. My initial reaction was "This is odd, really odd." And then I tried to be open-minded to the "new creative." The point of advertising is to get your attention and having a man tout a woman's perfume is different, and having that man be Brad Pitt definitely gets attention. But I'm sticking with my original impression; the campaign is not compelling and it's confusing. Several people I spoke with thought Chanel was introducing a new men's fragrance. 

Instead of sexy, Brad looks squirmy and uncomfortable, one dimensional. He's more listless than passionate. The ad is black and white, with an overall grungy gray feel. Brad is standing in the corner of a gray room wearing a wrinkled shirt with the tail hanging out and his hands defensively in his pockets. So instead of me feeling intrigued, captivated and drawn in to the world of Chanel No. 5, I feel distanced. And I'm an easy mark. For the last thirty years I've always had a bottle or two of Chanel perfume, and I still get giddy over a new one.
I can imagine the ad agency was told to attract a younger audience, that Chanel No. 5 is no longer your grandmother's perfume. That's the problem with a classic: it's wonderful to be so recognizable and the Chanel No. 5 scent, bottle and name comprises one of the most iconic brands in the world. But how do you market to a new audience without compromising what makes it great? How do you stay true to the brand but tell the story in a new way? Millions and billions are spent consulting with brand experts to answer this question. But at minimum, you keep it interesting. Looking up, down, left and right, Brad delivers this soliloquy:

"It's not a journey. Every journey ends, be we go on. The world turns and we turn with it. Plans disappear and dreams take over. But wherever I go, there you are, my luck, my fate, my fortune. Chanel No. 5. Inevitable." 

Ho hum. Brad, is that a cliche in your pocket or are you just bored to see me?

A L'Heure de l'observatoire: Les amoureaux, painting by Man Ray, 1932-1934

About the same time that this campaign premiered, Matt and I went to the Legion of Honor to the Man Ray | Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism exhibit. Now there's a story of modern passion, romance, glamour, artfulness and rich, fascinating lives, all the qualities I associate with Chanel No. 5.  Man Ray was a chick magnet. The more I read about him, the more girlfriends I discover he had, from Paris to Los Angeles. And they all seemed to happily pose nude for his camera or paintbrush. Lee Miller was his love from 1929 to 1932 when they lived together in Paris. She left him and he was devastated. Man Ray did the above painting of Lee Miller's lips and wrote these words, wrought with passion:

"It is seven o'clock in the morning, before the hunger of the imagination is satisfied. The sun has not yet decided to rise or set -- but your mouth comes. It becomes two bodies separated by a horizon, slim, undulating, like the earth and the sky, like you and me and so like all microscopic objects, invisible to the eye. Lips of the sun, you draw me endlessly nearer, and in this instant before awakening, when I cast loose from my body -- I am weightless -- I meet you in the even light and empty space, and, my only reality, kiss you with all that is left of me: my own lips."

I read those words in a crowded museum on a Sunday afternoon and Man Ray's love and longing swept me up and carried me away to a world of romance. If you're going to use a man to sell perfume, give me one that leaves me wanting more! In this instance, a dead Man Ray has more life than a live Brad Pitt. 


  1. Oh, the Man Ray quote alongside his painting is SO powerful, sexy and romantic. Thank you for sharing this!
    I agree that having Brad Pitt be the face of Chanel No 5 for this campaign gets attention but the writing and execution need improvement. How does a brand stay fresh while not losing its equity?

  2. Just a few hours ago I was walking through the airport when I saw the giant pictures of Brad and I thought, wow, he doesn't look that great. He looks kind of tired and old and pouchy. I didn't even notice what the ad was selling. I did see Inevitable, but I didn't link it to any product. I am not moved by this campaign!

  3. Yeah, Brad looks as though he's suffering from constipation. Man Ray, on the other hand . . . but you are a true romantic, one who appreciates the mystery and allure of the past when men where men and women knew it--or is it the other way around? Love your post, as usual!