Friday, 11 May 2012

Mad Girls

As a new publicity video by a big fashion "Maison" was released the other day and received the usual rave reviews from the internet community and other fashionistas (wow, isn't it glamourous, wow, isn't it set in luxurious Versailles, wow, doesn't the slow-motion make it all even more expensive-looking), I came across this Chanel advert from 1990. While I played it on repeat for about half an hour in a state of utter delight, I came to think the advertising industry is a lot like the capitalistic system (not that it takes a genius to get to that conclusion). The thing is, because we are in touch with it every day and have been for the past couple of decades, we haven't really noticed how it has degenerated into a really savage, aggressive, in-you-face BUY BUY BUY beast until it has been too late. The luxury and fashion industry uncannily mimics that evolution by treating designers as disposable kleenex, despising -or maybe fearing- the words "creativity" and "innovation" and loving more than ever the "$" sign (not that they didn't love $$$ before, but there used to be a balance between the need for profits and the idea that fashion was about more than just profits). Obviously, the advertising industry has followed.
I feel like I'm alone here but sometimes I think if I see one more advert featuring a star with grotesquely plump lips and a botoxed orgasmic facial expression shot in slow motion from a low angle I'm going to scream. Just what is the message advertisers want to convey with that kind of commercials? At best "wear this perfume and you'll get some"; at worst "man, unless you have the money and the plastic surgeon to get to look like this as well as the money to buy this perfume plus the clothes she is wearing and the Avenue Montaigne apartment she is being shot in, you won't get any. And you know if you don't get any your life is useless. So basically for all we care if you don't have money you might as well drop dead". Think about it: we are bombarded by these messages every single day several times a day, "be rich, sexy and happy or don't be".
You might think I'm now going to talk about the many advantages of Marxism-Leninism. I'll leave that for another day. You see, I like adverts. They can be fun, creative, surprising, enriching. But not in the way they are being done now (at least fashion/luxury product ads). So as I looked at more commercials from the 80's and 90's -my childhood years- I felt like I could see exactly what the modern Don Drapers have dropped in the last decades, all in order to have a more aggressive selling message and to keep the public feeling needy. In short, to keep up with capitalism. Well, if any of you Mad Men out there are reading this, know that this mad Girl would love it if you could bring back on ads the following things:

- Drama and out-of-control, ugly passions. The reason why that Egoïste ad is so striking is because it displays human flaws so unapologetically. Rage, sadness and rejection are all here complete with Prokofiev's tragic music in all its grandeur. Same with YSL's Opium ad, in which we can see addiction. Where did all that go? Seriously, when was the last time you saw a perfume ad in which the feminine characters were not embodiments of perfection?
- Political incorrectness. "A scent of dependence" was Opium's slogan in the 1980's. Nowadays, that sentence would have been banned. What? Comparing a perfume named Opium with actual opium? No way! We could compare it to sex though. Because making people think a perfume is addictive is so un-pc, but making them think a perfume will get them laid is so ok.
- An actual storyline. Have you noticed that most unusual thing? Linda's Opium ad actually tells a story in 30 seconds! Of course, that wouldn't work nowadays either, would it. A story distracting viewers from what we want them to buy is far too risky a choice.

- Speaking. Dear advertising experts: I know Keira Knightley's pout is probably much more commercially effective than having someone speak during 20 seconds. However, I do feel like it's kind of our duty to make the best out of what is, according to Aristotle, the one characteristic that makes us human, aka speech. 
- Scientific facts. in the light of what we know about advertising in 2012, this Calvins ad seems lunacy. What?! A commercial about jeans in which Brooke Shields talks about nothing but Darwinism for an entire minute? What the hell? Do we want to risk having people be inspired to pick up a book and read... and forget to consume for an entire afternoon? 

- A star making fun of herself. Catherine Deneuve is often seen as the ultimate icy-cold Parisian bourgeoise. And she knows it. And she plays on it in this very witty ad. As a matter of fact she does it so well people think she is just being herself and brand her even more as a distant, arrogant diva. But who cares. Nowadays, however, stars have to be more infallible than the Pope and they will only agree to appear in your commercial if they are portayed as modern-day demiurges (and if they get a juicy seven-figures salary for it).
- Mixing philosophy and literature with luxury. I don't know if you have noticed to what point this fantastic ad is ridiculous by today's standards: the characters are talking (sin number 1) about something which isn't the product (sin number 2) and which isn't how miserable you will feel if you don't purchase it immediately (sin number 3). They are debating about beauty and futility, about love and death... all in a philosophical tone. But the sin that outweighs all the previous sins is commited when Madame Deneuve talks about the sense of the French word "soin" in XVIII century literature. I mean come on, she is bringing classic literature and linguistics into a moisturizing ad. Then again of course we know Monsieur Saint Laurent was very fond of bringing philosophy and art into his designs and his brand in general. That's precisely why we got rid of him and replaced him with Tom Ford. 

- Portraying sexiness with a tongue-in-cheek tone. If you were to consider sexuality based exclusively on an afternoon of TV-watching,  you would conclude that the only possible way to be sexy is to pout a lot, move in slow motion (and preferably have someone choreograph your every move) and, above all else, look like being sexy is, far from being fun, a very very serious deal. I've always loved Dim ads because they used to be so cheeky in a way that is so dear to the French, and this one, even if it's in English, is just the same. "The kind of freedom French women demand"? Isn't that line just delicious? Now seriously, don't we need more, much more of this scrumptiousness in our ads today?

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