Truly Bradley, meekly

or How Brad Pitt led Chanel off-brand
I am a perfume geek. There are blogs for people like me. Just as avid bird watchers are called birders or twitchers, I could be called a fragonerd, a perfumista, or a fumehead. So you can imagine the kerfuffle in my little world when a new Chanel No.5 perfume advertisement comes out. OK, it’s not as much excitement as when Chanel releases a new perfume, but it’s close. Especially when the new tv ad features the first male spokesmodel for No.5, and Brad Pitt at that.
When the new celebrity representative was announced, there was a little debate about whether it was appropriate to have a man representing the world’s most famous feminine perfume. But let’s be honest, that’s a proposition we can figure out in a flash: if you wear Chanel No.5, Brad Pitt will fancy you. Kerching. As advertising goes, that’s a killer.
But what about the brand? After the super-slick, glossy and elegant adverts of Chanel’s past, I could see Mr Pitt fitting in if he looked as classically beautiful as he did in Meet Joe Black, clad in an immaculate Chanel suit, looking debonair and effortless. The Chanel brand, after all, is wonderfully curated and epitomises a very particular heady combination of luxury, quality and chic. Hermes has luxury and quality but is mumsy, the Italians are fashionable but slightly tawdry (you get the feeling that Gucci might be worn at a Bunga-Bunga party, which takes the shine off it a little), the British have quality, class and heritage but are not chic. No-one but the French fashion designers quite hit that deluxe/fashion/chic combo that Chanel, Dior and YSL have created and maintain so well. This is in a way the ultimate market in which your brand image is your greatest asset, because all these houses are selling is image.
Let’s be honest, Chanel is so precise in its branding that even the house’s designer, Karl Lagerfeld is only ever seen sporting monochrome clothing cut razor-sharp and styled to the extreme. Previous Chanel ads that I’ve just enjoyed watching on YouTube have included Ridley Scott’s 1986 vision of a woman in corporate America escaping in her shiny black car for an assignation in the great American desert. Luc Besson in 1998 gave us his glorious fantasy re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood and The Wolf,  then came 2004’s contentious but utterly glamorous Baz Luhrmann and Nicole Kidman collaboration and the most recent advert with Audrey Tatou on a sleeper train to Istanbul. They all share those brand markers we identify as Chanel: a very specific palette of colours – black, white, gold, scarlet; glossy production and styling; a recognisable piece of retro music; a setting in a city and involving travel or escape; and very importantly, a love story either played out or implied.
Given this heritage of Chanel advertising, I expected the new Brad Pitt ad to feature our hero in full-blown killer suave mode, seducing every woman watching with a single raised eyebrow (don’t believe it can be done? Sean Bean achieved a nationwide knee-tremble with his single sentence on the 2005 Christmas advert for Marks and Spencer). But of course I was sadly disappointed. Yes, Brad is as handsome as can be, and those few wrinkles around his eyes add to his sex appeal and hit the target audience of 30+ years old straight into the run-up to the Christmas present-buying season. Yes, of course Brad will shift product and yes, of course men will feel they are taking on an aura of Bradness if they give their lady love a bottle of No.5. I can see that casting Brad as opposed to George ‘Swooney’ Clooney is a canny move, as his appeal is more casual, modern and democratic, given George’s classical Cary Grant look and slightly retro style. Yet those would be exactly the attributes I’d have judged to be more in tune with the brand. Touche Chanel for being clever and playing the off-beat card. (Or maybe George was busy filming for Nespresso.)
But was it clever to go completely off the guidelines?
I will grant that at least the ad is in black and white, the Chanel brand colours. But in fact, it is a soft grey, which has none of the sharpness we associate with Chanel. Brad stands in the corner of a dappled grey set, under an offscreen light that swings about alarmingly. He has long hair and a neat goatee and his cheeks are oddly matt in close-up. He is wearing a slightly creased shirt and chinos and looks as if he’s about to teach an Art class. I’m sorry, but this is not the image of luxury that will encourage me to drop fifty quid for the smallest bottle of No.5. He’s handsome, he’s in his mid 40s and heading towards rugged, he speaks in beautifully enunciated honeyed tones, but he hasn’t made enough of an effort to get me to part with my hard earned cash. (Sorry Bradley, no hard feelings. Try rocking up in a suit next time, darling man, and taking me somewhere posh.)
But hey, even seriously blah, functional, casual styling (with rumpled sleeves – they don’t have an iron?) can be redeemed by fantastic copywriting, right? I mean, as a copywriter I have to believe that. So does this blow me away? Well. Here’s the copy:
“It’s not a journey. Every journey ends, but 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 number five.  Inevitable”
Meh. Standard 90’s mumbo-jumbo. It mentions one of the distinguishing features of a Chanel ad – the journey. But no, apparently ‘it’s not a journey’, which blows that one out of the water. The ad doesn’t speak about perfume, luxury, France, Coco, Chanel, making movies, Brad himself or the meaning of life, let alone the meaning of forking out fifty knicker for this particular bottle of scent.
I quite like “wherever I go, there you are” – that speaks to me about the ubiquity of the planet’s favourite perfume (by sales). But it has nothing to do with the man saying it. Similarly, “My luck. My fate. My fortune” trips off his silver tongue very nicely, though it means little when you think of it. However, we ladies do wear our favourite perfume for special occasions and if we’re lucky, we’re more likely to encounter Fate and Fortune when we’re sporting heels and lippy. Again, it doesn’t scream ‘Brad’ to me, but I guess it’s OK for Chanel. However, this is Chanel: since when has ‘OK’ been good enough?
There is a splash (ha!) of black and gold, as the obligatory packshot is set agains an image of the world at night, cities illuminated beneath the golden elixir that is “one of the pleasures of being a woman”.
I do, however like the punchline of “Inevitable”. It really is very No.5. It speaks of the fact that women expect to grow into No.5 as they grow up, positioning it as something to be looked up to and looked forward to. It’s justifiably referred to as iconic and the bottle is a symbol in its own right. With my perfumista head on, I’d say the fragrance itself is still held up as an exquisite piece of work and is highly respected (though not worshipped as reverentially as Guerlain’s Mitsouko).
Overall, I’d say Chanel have got a great piece of PR here but nothing that actually adds to their brand. Indeed, I think the scuzzy presentation and lack of glamour is detrimental. The Baz Luhrmann/Nicole Kidman advert was panned because it was so camp and overblown, and Nicole’s breathy “I’m a dancer!” line often comes up in sarcastic remarks on perfume blogs, but nonetheless it was visually stunning and glamorous. Gael García Bernal was ravishingly pretty and Nicole did her Moulin Rouge character Satine and wore fabulous gowns. Sadly for us and for Chanel, in this new ad, Brad isn’t ravishing in scarlet tulle. Hell, he doesn’t even do a good old Coco Mademoiselle gender-bender twist by dabbing a little No.5 on his own neck. This ad misses too many tricks and is too mediocre.
But as a copywriter, I’d like to shake the hand of whoever came up with the genius line: “Inevitable”.
Ah. The day after I posted this, amid a great hoot and holler of comment online in all kinds of media as well as blogs, a follow-up was released. This features exactly what you’d expect of a Chanel ad: gloss, glam, gowns, global locations, and a massive floating bottle of perfume. It’s still not a great ad – it’s too chopped and incoherent to be anything more than just OK – but at least it is very evidently a luxe ad for a luxe product. Inevitable, indeed.October 2012

Communicating or confusing?

When you’re writing about a subject you know well, it’s very easy to slip into using a specialised vocabulary. But when you do that, you risk bemusing or alienating a chunk of your readers.  
Specialised terminology – jargon – is a mark that you’re in the know; that you understand intimately what you are talking about; that you’re part of the club. It’s how teenagers show each other how cool they are (though nowadays I suspect they say sick, rather than cool), while keeping the old folks out of the loop. And just like a teenager using the ‘wrong’ word for their trainers can be exposed as a nerd who doesn’t belong in the group, so using the wrong bit of jargon can expose you as an impostor, who doesn’t really know about silicon epitaxy. 
It might not get picked up by the marketing department who are reading your copy, but you can bet the engineers who are your target audience will see right through you, and the credibility of the brand you’re writing for will be diminished. Sucky, as those teens say (I think). 
I’ll be honest, I’ve sat in too many meetings feeling my brain bubble as I tried to work out what on earth someone was talking about. Trust me, whoever that person was, my brain ache didn’t dispose me kindly towards them or whatever they were trying to tell me. I have been guilty of playing business babble bingo. When I’ve heard phrases like touching base, singing from the same song sheet, going forward, state of the art, the bleeding edge… I’ve come close to shouting ‘house!’ on occasion. Because jargon is more than just acronyms and buzz words, it’s also those ghastly opaque metaphors that are overused and degraded until they lose their meaning.
And why am I holding forth about all this? Because I love reading plain English. It’s simple, it’s elegant, it has an enormous vocabulary thanks to borrowing words from the dozens of languages it has encountered over the centuries – from Latin and Anglo Saxon, through Norse, French and Dutch to Arabic, Hindi and Urdu. It has a richness and power that is remarkable. And it can communicate so well that it doesn’t need to be messed with.  
Yes, by all means add new names, new ideas, new words, but don’t use them to hide behind.  Instead, use clarity to let your message shine out.
October 2012