A Chanel No. 5 ad featuring a scruffy Brad Pitt riffing on the meaning of timelessness has divided the globe. Is it simply pretentious? Or is it a bold departure for the French luxury-goods maker?
Industry consultants are all over the map. Most agree on one point, though: boosting awareness of the women’s fragrance - - especially among guys with an appreciation for Pitt’s fiancee, Angelina Jolie -- probably will spur holiday sales of Chanel SAS’s best-known product.
The black-and-white commercial, which debuted this month, has gone viral, with more than 4.64 million views on YouTube, and spawned a raft of parodies. U.S. television show Saturday Night Live last weekend broadcast a spoof in which an actor sporting Pitt’s long hair and goatee mimics the ad to tout the Dorito-shell tacos sold by Yum! Brands Inc.’s Taco Bell chain.
The campaign “taps into a whole other consumer for whom Chanel No. 5 wouldn’t necessarily be front of mind,” said Jane Kellock, acting managing editor of product and design at researcher Stylus in London. The fragrance is “something that women know about and men don’t,” she said, adding that most women won’t be alienated by the ad because Pitt is handsome, even if using the celebrity is “a bit gimmicky.”
Fourth-quarter marketing is crucial for luxury goods makers as they seek to lure shoppers in the biggest selling period of the year. Fragrances are an important gift item for department stores from Macy’s Inc. to Le Bon Marché in Paris, a retail segment that’s heavily dependent on November and December sales.
The choice of Pitt, 48, “can serve to make guys more comfortable going to the fragrance counter,” said Andrew Sacks, founder of a namesake luxury ad agency in New York. “It makes it both cool and gives confidence to the male gift-giver.”
Film Director Joe Wright, known for his movies “Pride and Prejudice,” “Atonement” and the upcoming “Anna Karenina,” plus two Keira Knightley Coco Mademoiselle commercials, was commissioned to direct several films for No. 5, which “capture the memories, thoughts and dreams of a man being seduced by a fragrance,” Chanel said in an Oct. 15 statement.
Kate Shone, a New York-based spokeswoman for closely held Chanel, declined to comment on the campaign. Pitt was paid $7 million, plus Chanel planned to spend $10 million on U.S. advertising, Women’s Wear Daily reported Oct. 5, citing unidentified industry sources.
Chanel, revived by designer Karl Lagerfeld, doesn’t publicly disclose financial information. It ranked as the fourth most valuable luxury brand with a value of $6.68 billion, according to Millward Brown Optimor’s 2012 BrandZ study published in May.
While Chanel, which sells mainly women’s products, should be applauded for boldly basing the campaign around a man, “I was surprised how visually unappealing he looks and simply don’t understand styling him to look so disheveled,” said Jose Bandujo, president of Bandujo Advertising & Design in New York.
“It’s as if he came to the set after shooting a movie all day,” he said. “Maybe it was an attempt to continue the idea of being different, but it just doesn’t seem to fit the sophistication and elegance of the brand.”
Daniel Spinosa, a 25-year-old medical student at Columbia University in New York, was puzzled by the script.
In the ad, Pitt says: “It’s not a journey, every journey ends but we go on. The world turns and we turn with it. Plans disappear, dreams take over. But wherever I go, there you are. My luck, my fate, my fortune. Chanel No. 5. Inevitable.”
“Maybe I am a simpleton,” Spinosa said. “It was unclear to me what was ‘inevitable.’”
Pitt’s monologue has no relevance to the product, said Tom Julian, a retail expert and brand consultant with a namesake firm in New York. The campaign would have worked better if Pitt had voiced over a montage of images showing more of the world of the brand and the fragrance, he said.
“Right now global brands should be telling some type of story,” said Julian, who is skeptical the campaign will boost Chanel holiday sales. Still, “they are certainly getting their money’s worth with eyeballs.”
The debate spawned by the Pitt ad has “been featured by practically every major U.S. and U.K. publication, far exceeding the original projected reach of this campaign,” said Jessica Matthias, an account director at PR consultant Wordville Ltd. in London. “This coverage, when measured against the advertising rates of these publications, would most likely run into the hundreds of millions.”
Chanel No. 5 is the world’s most famous fragrance, and made its debut in 1921, Chanel’s release said. Coco Chanel asked the perfumer, Ernest Beaux, to create a fragrance that reflected her “very modern fashion philosophy.” Five was her lucky number and it was the fifth submission presented to her on the fifth day of the fifth month of the year, hence the name of the fragrance, it said.
Ultimately, the ad will work if guys consider No. 5 when they’re looking for a gift to please their significant others for the holidays, said Doug Harrison, chief executive officer of Harrison Group LLC, a Waterbury, Connecticut-based luxury research and consulting firm.
“If Brad Pitt can keep Angelina Jolie happy and satisfied, so can other guys,” he said. “Guys think, ‘It is going to be great for me.’”