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.
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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