Conan O’Brien called it “nonsensical ramblings”, Saturday Night Live parodied it and Tumblr has got its own Fuck Yeah! Inevitable Brad! page. Brad Pitt’s Chanel No 5 ad is probably the actor’s most criticised film to date, far ahead of Troy, The Mexican and Mr & Mrs Smith. Yet this very pan is what has made the ad so successful.
Immediate reactions to the ad ranged from the mocking to the lukewarm with the actor, rather than Chanel, bearing the blunt of criticism. Reviewers are questioning the rationale of the move in terms of image and career for Pitt, only a few wondering whether its quality can affect the French fashion house. The industry seems more worried by the EU threatening to ban tree moss, a key perfume ingredient, for being allergen, than by Pitt’s performance.
Early reviews focused on Pitt’s shifty gaze and the intensity of his delivery rather than the ad script or Joe Wright’s direction. Media outlets which would normally have little interest in Chanel kept reporting the story because it attained the holy grail of 2010s marketing: it went viral, supported by a strong media buy. People made it theirs, embracing the asset in their own way.
For a brand like Chanel, which has in the past taken strong steps to protect and enforce its trademarks such as a full page ad in WWD warning editors against the inappropriate use of the term Chanel jacket, there seems to have been very few, if any, cease and desist letters. The fashion house is letting the buzz run its own course, which is the only way to sustain it. Would Chanel have preferred the short to be lauded as an oeuvre d’art of cinema and marketing? Probably, but it wouldn’t have had the same result. Having a go at the perfect professional, perfect husband, perfect dad is an integral part of the Jolie-Pitt narrative played out in media outlets, and with its less than perfect ad, Chanel has gotten itself on that bandwagon.
By hiring a name with brand power equal, if not above its own, Chanel has not only generated interest and earned media beyond the fashion sphere, it has taken an insurance that its most lucrative and best known product would be left unscathed. It’s too early to see which effect the ad is having on No 5 sales in the key Q3 festive period but in terms of online success, Chanel is one step ahead of its competitors in the Christmas ad race.