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Jun 28, 2011

The Celebrity Pitch

Readers, many volumes have been written about advertising and its role as lubricant in our (rapidly rusting) consumer culture.  But after reading the many excellent comments to yesterday's post about models, I wanted to talk more about it. 

Reader Some Girl made a great point, that the message behind much of today's fashion advertising is "People who are this perfect wear our brand" as opposed to, by wearing such-and-such a brand (or label) you will look more whatever -- beautiful, alluring, sophisticated, etc.

I mean, how sophisticated can anybody look in their underwear?

The celebrity ad seems to operate in both realms.  We want to buy Lux soap flakes (up top) because Jane Wyman uses them, and because by using them we'll end up looking more like Jane Wyman.  (Wait -- am I the only one who still wants to look more like Jane Wyman?)

Consider this contemporary Louis Vuitton ad campaign, which I'm guessing most of you are familiar with.

That's Mikhail Gorbachev, the last head of state of the former USSR, and -- ahem -- not exactly a fashion plate.  Why on earth would anyone care what kind of luggage he uses?  Well, apparently whoever designed the ad campaign believes someone in their target market does care.

Here's another in the series.  Obviously, women without shoes are serious women, who have more important things to worry about.  Which is not to take anything away from Angelina Jolie -- a UN Goodwill Ambassador after all -- and what should she be carrying, a recycled burlap tote?

In the highly competitive luxury goods market, who knows what works and what won't?  When I was growing up, this Blackglama mink ad campaign was in full swing and I loved following them to see which old-time star would show up next. 

I wonder how many coats Joan Crawford really moved...but I digress.

Readers, are you seduced by celebrities in ads?  Are you able to see beyond the movie star and focus on what is being advertised?

On a somewhat related note, do ads featuring scantily clad, dissipated teenagers make you want to head off to the mall to buy jeans, gulp down a few Excedrin -- or both?

As in so many areas of life today, we seem to be throwing everything at the wall in hope that something will stick.  Nobody seems to know what works.

I had a sort of epiphany yesterday while tut-tutting over that Banana Republic "Inspired by Mad Men" photo: It doesn't matter what I think.  Those clothes are not supposed to work for me.

Their target market is likely decades younger, someone with no living memory of the styles, to whom this stuff looks fresh and edgy, not stale and derivative.

As so many have mentioned, the Sixties revisited the Twenties, the Seventies the Forties, and so on.  A lot of those styles were lifted piecemeal, without much reinterpretation.  Remember these record albums?

So what's wrong with a little early Sixties in the -- what are we in again, the teens?

Friends, I could talk about advertising all day, but I really must get a move on.

If you were advertising something like, say, Louis Vuitton luggage how would you sell it?

Is associating a bag with a former head of state a cynical ploy, a brilliant strategy, or both?

Why do we still fall for this stuff?  (Note to self: shower, change underwear, smile.)


  1. I have never been and would never been seduced into buying a product cos it was celebrity endorsed, I honestly don't get it. I don't think I'm particularly savvy but I also don't think I'll get a certain lifestyle by buying a certain product, or will look like said celebrity if I wear the make up, just as well really cos I'm broke ha ha!

    I personally would love to look like Jane Wyman btw ;o)

  2. Kate and William's engagement/ wedding recently raised this whole question of celebrity (intentional or non-intentional) endorsement for me. Apparently whatever dress Kate wears sells out in an instant, yet I can't for the life of me imagine why. Who would would want to be seen wearing the same dress Kate has worn so publicly, inevitably inviting the question of who wears it better? For me, it would have the exact opposite effect and I would avoid it like the plague!

    I like that Vuitton campaign because it features 'thinking persons' celebs with their real-life bags. But it still doesn't make me want to rush out and buy one...

  3. I'm with you guys about celebrity endorsements -- although who knows, maybe it's working on me subliminally...

    Nathalie, do you really think that's Gorbachev's real-life bag? Maybe I'm missing something.

  4. If Anna Magnani advertised something I would probably run out and buy it.

  5. Celebrity endorsements have never really sucked me in. Although I have been loving the "Royal Wedding" tea that my mother sent me.

  6. Gorbachev is a cool guy, having introduced glasnost to the Soviet Union thereby turning the world upside down. I can see why Vuitton wanted his endorsement.

  7. oh, I loved the Blackglama ads too, just to see if I could "get" the celebrity. But that didn't make me want a fur coat....

    And I totally agree with you about the Banana Republic ads. Once you're of a certain age, vintage can look fusty and inauthentic.

  8. There was an article about the Angelina shoot in the British press recently mentioning that this is a bag she has owned for some years. Fashion Telegraph Angelina Vuitton article

    I may have extrapolated and assumed that the whole campaign is of celebs and their bags! If they're straightforward ads, then I'm much less impressed...

  9. Thanks for the link, Nathalie! And the reader comments about the "Core Values" campaign are certainly thought-provoking!

  10. I think the use of the celebrity endorsement is more subtle than "I'm going to buy this because X is in the ad." It's more of a mental attachment thing: if you associate the product with something you already know (e.g., a celebrity), you are more likely to remember it and therefore buy it, or at least have a favorable response to the brand in the future. You will know you've heard about it, though you may not remember why or how. (File this under "how to use psychology for fun and profit.")

  11. I think you're right, Harriet. After all, how is it we (well, most of us) know Louis Vuitton is a luxury brand at all?

  12. What I don't get is why people buy things that have the designer's logo all over them. If I'm going to walk down the street with a Louis Vuitton bag with that logo on it, they should be paying ME.

    On another note, did anyone notice the skirt half of Jane Wyman's dress? The side panels are on the bias but the center is on the straight grain. Interesting. But I can't deal with her hair. Does she have ears?

  13. Interesting point, Harriet. It's probably why celebrity advertising doesn't work on me - I don't know the celebrities. I don't watch TV so I'm not familiar with commercials. In printed ads, I typically scrutinize the details of the garment(s), regardless of what products is actually being advertized. The model/celebrity doesn't usually register.

  14. Kristin, use Lux Flakes and YOU TOO can have a dress like that.

  15. For me, it depends on whether the celebrity has knowledge of what they're endorsing. For instance I enjoy the TV show Good Eats; and if he endorses a cooking product, then I'm more likely to buy it.

    There's also this sewing celebrity who's endorsed various items; and I take his recommendations seriously too ;)

    Ads as ads though, I pay very little attention to.

  16. Remember that Levi's jeans commercials, made up of illustrations by artists, maybe women artists? That one moved me.
    Heroin chic doesn't.

  17. I'm with Treadle27, if someone actually uses a product and likes it then I'm more likely to buy it. Even with blogs, if someone recommends something then I find myself a lot more interested than if some random celebrity is pitching the stuff.

    I also know I'm getting older because I have trouble recognizing people. It might be the rampant plastic surgery and/or photoshop, or the fact that celeb culture is aimed at the very young. A lot of times, I'm looking at someone in a photo and thinking, "Who is this person and why do they care if I shop at the Gap?" I think advertising is stuck in the 50s and they don't realize that today's consumer is a lot more savvy. Thanks to social media, I can get opinions on a product a lot faster and that is often what drives me to buy or not buy something. Web sites like Amazon and Old Navy with their reviews influence most of my purchases. If I pay attention to ads, it's only to find out when the sales are on.

  18. Yeah, but have you ever seen a better photo of a mature Joan Crawford? I love the Blackgama ads! Electrocute some weasels for me, please!

  19. Hi Peter!! I get SICK & t-i-r-e-d of seeing upscale magazines lamb blasted with supposedly "sexy" looking women... To sell products to me. Now, I enjoy a beautiful woman, but please... the look on these gals faces is, "Come on, mister"... but the product is for moi.
    Rhonda in Montreal (PR)

  20. I'm afraid I'm getting to the age where I think celebrity ads are a guessing game for me . . . is that a famous person? Should I know who that is? I find the hint of a story, the appeal of narrative works more than an identity attached to a product. Since I live a tv-less existence in a foreign country, I've not seen the Gorbachev ad campaign . . . but it does conjure so much to have him associated with the brand . . . like "what is he doing now?" "what does he think of what Vladimir Putin is doing to Russia?" Would it encourage me to buy a Vuitton bag -- not likely, even if it was a fiscally viable option. Anyhow, I love the tendency now to show clothes that arent' on anyone in the ad/website/catalog -- it's easier to imagine me in them. : )

  21. Celebrity ads are irrelevant in my life, since I don't watch television, go to movies, or read magazines with these kinds of ads.

    I can't even imagine why a paid endorsement would ever sway a consumer's opinion; if the goods don't stand on their own, why buy them?

    But I'm *really* cranky, and have been known to remove labels from my clothing, or to obscure a brand if it's obvious, no matter how "special" it is -- or specifically because it IS "special". I just can't embrace the idea of using my body as a walking ad.

  22. I don't mind if there is a celebrity in the ad. The ad has to really showcase the product in a beautiful way for me to get sucked in. I just read about that ad with Angelia Jolie for Louis Vuitton. I guess it is her bag, and they don't make that style anymore???? They now have to consider re-launching it because of the ad. That ad has enough eye candy for me to get seduced, I must say.

  23. Personally I have a problem with the Vuitton ads featuring celebrities like Angelina, Bono et al. On the one hand it appears to use the "good works" credibility that these people may have to promote a luxury bag that is out of the reach of the average wage earner. I don't get the message. Is it "I'm so rich and famous and will take my thousand dollar bag into the jungle if I want to?" or "If you buy this bag you can become rich and famous and save the world". Is it just me or am I taking it too seriously?

  24. Some Girl's observation is really intriguing! I do think there has been a bit of a shift in advertising in that direction--away from "this product will make you sexy like me" and more toward "this product will give you some personal affinity with me." The (illusorily) participatory nature of celebrity with the rise of reality television (anyone can be a star!) and intensive 24/7 coverage of the minutiae of celebrities' lives (once you are a star everyone will know everything about you!) has made the latter a more viable option than it was in the past. When you become famous, you need to know/use/wear/buy the "right" brands, so start now to be ready. It's not about being "like" the celebrity. It's about BEING the celebrity.

    I am not sure I have a point. Except that I think reality television has been worse for our culture than high fructose corn syrup.

  25. When my browser opened your blog, I thought, "Look! Cathy has a new dress and Peter made the photo into a vintage ad." It took a second look to figure out that the Lux flakes lady was Jane Wyman.

    I used to be very susceptible to advertising, when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I think they don't market stuff to women my age because we aren't very open to new products without personal endorsements from our friends.

  26. Hey, Peter, thanks for the mention!

    Celebrity endorsements only make me think about the celebrity's finances. Are they desperate for money? Making bank now because they're afraid their star is fading? Really greedy? Or do they just not have anything better to do with their time? (Not that I'm cynical or anything ... ahem.)

  27. I am living in the UK without a television so I had never seen the Louis Vitton advertisements but I think they are clever. The message is "These are powerful and glamourous people with serious things to do and this is what they carry." Very very clever.

  28. PS You don't look like jane Wyman but Cathy sure does.

  29. Celebrity endorsements don't do it for me, but maybe that's because I'm a little bit old and a little bit cranky and the advertisers are not targetting me anyway! I do like to see what the glamorous people are wearing (not advertising per se), but that is just my love of fashion watching, rather than any urge to shop for products. But I am, and always have been, in love with Jane Wyman. Could Cathy maybe emulate some of Jane's looks some time? I'd love to see that.

  30. I am absolutely not moved AT ALL by celebrity endorsements. I don't care who uses/wears what. I like (or don't) what I like and that is that. Maybe I just have a crazy independent streak - wow, maybe that is where my son gets it from...

    On a lighter note, if you'd like a sewing-related chuckle today, check this out:

  31. I'm often tempted to buy a makeup because I like the look that was done on the celebrity in the ad. I always have to stop and remind myself that my bone structure and coloring are different than the celebrity's, thus the makeup will look different on me.

    I've also been tempted to buy (or at least sample) fragrances by celebrities that I admire. (Tilda Swinton and Alan Cumming come to mind.)

    Nothing could make me buy a bag covered in logos.

  32. Do the celebrities lend the goods an aura? We too can touch fame, by buying what they associate with??? I don't buy bags covered with logos either; I'd rather be noticed for myself than for my accessories. Some famous people carry over some recognition from their real accomplishments, like Gorbachev; but the reality TV people carry only recognition, and that only from people who actually watch reality TV. The advertisers aim for the gullible. Kristina


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