Johnny Depp’s Sauvage ad – deeply meaningful or deliberately ridiculous?

Johnny Depp Sauvage Dior Fragrance Campaign

Fragrance advertising is one of the last bastions of pure image advertising.  Little concerns about brand ‘authenticity’ or ‘truth’ here – just good, old fashioned aspirational sizzle.

The latest offering from the category is the campaign for Dior’s new men’s cologne, Sauvage.

The commercial is a big budget production with – interestingly – both art house and pop culture influences.  Topping the expense list is the enigmatic Johnny Depp as brand ambassador. The thinking woman’s bad boy, Depp channels – amongst other things – a contemporised version of his Pirates of the Caribbean Jack Sparrow character for the spot.   The video is conceptualised and directed by French fashion photographer and award winning music video director Jean-Baptiste Mondino.

According to Dior’s press release the video “tells a story of freedom and emotion, a man and his instincts.” Or simply on face value, it shows Depp playing a bit of guitar in the big city and then dramatically (and mysteriously) driving into the desert where he buries his jewellery in the middle of nowhere.  All to an original music track by Ry Cooder; that sounds an awful lot like George Thorogood’s Bad to the Bone.

Here it is so you can judge for yourself:

So what’s it all about? What – for instance – you may ask is going on with the bison, wolf and eagle?  While these and the other opaque references will no doubt be a candy store for semioticians, one interpretation is that these species were all nearly extinct.  In this case, Depp can be seen as attempting to recover his original self by deep sixing the symbols of his socially created persona.

Which of these – true self or social persona – is the archetypal bad boy or the manly metrosexual is hard to tell.  But judging by the response of reviewers it doesn’t really matter.

For the mainly female cast of commentators, the ad is simply an attention grabbing, conversation generating showcase for Depp to be – in the words of Ben Stiller’s invented super model Derek Zoolander – “really, really, ridiculously good looking”.  Which in itself may be more than enough of a reason for women to gravitate towards the brand.

And why wouldn’t Dior prioritise appealing to women?  Afterall, apparently over 50% of men’s cologne is bought by women. Plus a third of men’s fragrance is actually worn by women.

But what about men who are still the clear majority users?  No doubt Depp’s bohemian cool carries a lot of weight with them.  But at first glance the ad itself wouldn’t be doing the brand any favours with a male audience.  In fact most men would probably see it as a bit of a w**k. From its bizarre, faux philosophical script to the throaty, French accented “Sauvage” voice over that it closes with, it’s so over the top that it could almost be seen as a lampoon of the perfume ad genre.

If one was to take the full Zoolander quote and use it as the springboard for an ad, this would be it.  “I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking. And I plan on finding out what that is.” So here we see Depp on his quest for “it”.

But maybe there’s something a little more going on here.  By verging on the ridiculous the commercial is venturing into the subversive views of masculinity employed by brands like Dos Equis and Old Spice.

Old Spice Smell Like A Man, Man

The self-effacing absurdity of Old Spice’s now famous “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” managed to convey macho male values while softening the delivery of them with parody.  In doing this it managed to pull off the delicate balancing act of appealing to both the contemporary male identity and female gatekeepers.

Possibly the intention of the Sauvage spot is to be a luxury brand version of this.  Perhaps while women are swooning at Depps’s self-aware, new age, roguish charm, men are meant to instead get the joke and intuitively pick up on the underlying bad boy ethos, as echoed in Thorogood’s lyrics:

I broke a thousand hearts
Before I met you
I’ll break a thousand more, baby
Before I am through

Perhaps it’s none of this.

Maybe Dior and Mondino are seriously trying to create ‘art’ after all.

But it’s fun to speculate.

Image Credits: Dior, Old Spice 

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5 thoughts on “Johnny Depp’s Sauvage ad – deeply meaningful or deliberately ridiculous?

  1. To the Author:

    I believe your article only touches the shallow end of the pool on this masterful piece of art truly aimed to target the essence of Self (for a great man) and the sought after elevated deep and sexual relationship desired by a great woman.

    Unfortunately this is aimed at a pinnacle of people who will understand the massive message this commercial conveys, or will take the time to research its undertones. (google Totum Meanings of each of the Spirit Animals). For the advertiser I hope just the “feeling” reaches the base gallant human spirits they are trying to connect to. Unfortunately, last I saw statistics say the average TV audience has the I.Q. of an Elementary School Student. This may challenge an efficient return on their investment, but just seeing Mr. Depp with the Brand association can over come a lot with both the deeper Thespian and simple minded.

    The real syntactics are not “Bad Boy” at all, they represent a higher spiritual plane that “respects all relationships as sacred”, a man of wisdom that knows he is threatened by shallow social norms and has the courage/confidence to leave them (like the gold) buried in the desert. I would like to think more men would aspire to these greater levels. The Buffalo partially represents the “Abundance” of prosperity (or powerful sexual attraction). Now ‘what do (great) women really want?’, I would hope a person like this, not a “whipped” empty suit.

    I am overwhelmed with the majesty of this creation. Unfortunately I feel that 80% of it will be like ‘the tree falling in the forest with no one there…..did it make a noise?’

    Respectfully, I believe your post missed out on the great noise in the forest.

    Oh, the cool car counts too.

    • Interesting views. I’m not sure I follow all of your interpretation. But I guess like any art, once it is created the meaning belongs to the beholder and not the artist. So let’s say it is in fact “deeply meaningful” rather than “deliberately ridiculous”. If, to your point, only 80% of people get this meaning (and I think this would be a generous guesstimate), the outcome then is that for most it’s unintentionally ridiculous. And becomes a great example of the difference between art and advertising.

      • Well summarized. Yes, when I present numbers I try to be conservative.
        My interpretations come from researching the Totum Spirit Animal meanings and personal insights.
        Most will not do this. My point exactly is this is probably not efficient advertising for the masses and placement would have to be mostly with a lazer focus to find the audiences with the prowess to understand so many seeds here are probably being casted onto rock. Sad to say most probably audiences can relate to Porn better than True Love and Great Art.

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