A full-page ad in a recent weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal caught my eye, but not because I was interested in the product or because it was so clever it made me pause to read it. Nope, there was nothing to read.
The color ad, which took up the entire back page of the paper’s “Off Duty” section, featured a confused-looking young woman, about 18 to 21, who appeared to have cut her own hair with her dad’s pruning shears, wearing a pair of googley-eyed party sunglasses, looking like she got dressed in a windstorm in clothing several sizes too large. At the bottom of the ad was the word “Chanel.” That’s it, nothing else.
I checked the WSJ’s rate card and the ad on that page cost a whopping $398,147.58.
I used to be in the public relations and advertising business. I don’t think I’d cut it today. Half the time, I’m not even sure what the products are or what the message is. The few TV ads that I vaguely understand involve car insurance, beer and a middle-aged woman explaining how she finally found relief after being constipated since the Reagan Administration. The car insurance ones feature a lizard, a gal who looks like a waitress in a cheap diner, and a guy who blows himself up. They want me to buy their insurance, but I’m not clear what the benefits are, as nowhere are the benefits mentioned.
Here’s my take on the WSJ Chanel ad. (My editor says the ad is for the sunglasses. I say if you can’t tell what they’re advertising, let your imagination guide you. This ad stinks, so it must be for perfume.)
Perfume ads should appeal to basic instincts. Ancient Greeks and Romans used scents in the public baths because those places reeked like a fraternity house bathroom on a Sunday morning … think the elephant barn in the circus on a hot summer day. Somewhere during the 14th through 16th centuries, Europeans—who believed regular bathing was an unnecessary nuisance and a health hazard—started using perfumes to mask their neighbors’, families’ and the king’s and queen’s knock-you-over BO.
When my wife and I were touring castles in England, a tour guide told us that in “olden times” the king and his entourage changed castles frequently because they had no indoor plumbing, so the royals and their pals pooped behind the draperies. (Honest, they really told us that.) So King What’s-His-Name—who clearly didn’t marry the queen for her exceptional housekeeping skills—and his groupies moved from poopy palace to non-poopy palace, followed by a 15th-century hazmat crew.
With the introduction of soap, indoor plumbing, bathtubs and crowded rock venues, perfumes transformed. They became a symbol of an evolved and refined society, much like the crowds found at a Pitbull or Young Thug concert. They emit scents that evoke memories, trigger senses, boost confidence, make folks happy and result in unwanted pregnancies.
So how does the $400,000 Chanel ad picturing a disheveled, bespectacled young gal with hair that looks like she combed it with a egg beater convey that message? I’d be interested in hearing from anybody who bought a Chanel product based on that ad; I have some stuff in my garage that would interest you.
I’m convinced the ad was produced by a group of experts who studied advertising by watching Mad Men and received their degrees from the “Close Cover Before Striking School of Advertising and Septic Tank Cleaning.”
Here’s how I envision the conception of the Chanel ad taking place:
A Don Draper wannabe and several advertising agency staff members are seated around a large conference room table.
DD wannabe: “Does everybody have a full glass of whiskey and lots of cigarettes, as this meeting could last 15 minutes?”
Account Executive: “Our client, Chanel, has a boatload of money and they want us to develop an ad campaign that will sell its stuff. Does anybody want a hit from this doobie?”
DD wannabe (smoking a blunt): “Help yourself to the brownies. Hey, here’s a picture of a funky chick I picked up at a club last night who looks like she got dressed in a windstorm and combed her hair with an egg-beater. What can I say, it was closing time.”
AE (smoking the doobie): “Hey, man, why don’t we use that photo in a $400,000 Wall Street Journal Chanel ad?”
DD wannabe (pouring a glass of whiskey and lighting a cigarette): “Great idea. Now let’s go have a three-hour lunch and drink martinis before we hit happy hour.”
I think I got out of that business just in time.
Scott is a former newspaper reporter and retired corporate and agency public relations professional. He blogs at davescottblog.com.