By Magnus Shaw
Helping the postman to haul several swollen mailbags through my front door, it occurs to me that Valentine's Day is also a busy time for the perfume industry.
As most blokes are spectacularly unimaginative when it comes to buying gifts for their beloved, the default purchase is either a bunch of flowers from that odd rack of buckets at the front of the supermarket, or a bottle of scent from Superdrug. It doesn't matter whether the lucky lady has never worn the chosen perfume before, or indeed whether she has actually expressed an active dislike for it. The mud-brained man will just opt for the one priced somewhere between Kerry Katona's 'Problem' range and Jo Malone's 'Extortion' line. J-Lo's 'Bottom' brand would probably do. Or, if a little extravagance is in order, he may just stretch to something from Chanel. (I suspect gay men are much better at Valentine gifts. It just strikes me as the sort of thing they'd do with more class and style than dunderheaded hetero fellas.)
Chanel are on the back foot at the moment. Don't get me wrong, they're still making inordinate sums of money selling sweetly scented spirit to aspirational women and unimaginative men. But their recent campaign, starring Brad Pitt being so pretentious he appeared to be talking from the dark cave of his own digestive system, was widely derided. That doesn't mean it failed to shift many barrels of smell-juice, just that it managed to irritate a swathe of the population as it did so.
And now, here we go again.
The new Chanel ad features Keira Knightley and has managed to get itself banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for being ‘too sexually suggestive’.
If your company sells packets of cauliflower cheese, you might be a bit concerned by this judgement. However, for a perfume brand, being labelled sexually suggestive is a cause for champagne and high-fives. Mission accomplished.
Of course, Chanel have to feign dismay and bafflement, which is why they insist the work is playful and sensual rather than sexual. But behind closed doors, they're probably saying 'Sexual? Suggestive? Sexy? Sex? You'd better believe it! We're all about the sex! Oh yes!'
Funnily enough, the ASA went on to make the ad sound even more erotic, observing: “We noted that the photographer was directly involved in unzipping the actress’s garments and that there was a suggestion that she was naked aside from a bed sheet. We also noted that there was clear sexual tension between the pair and that they appeared about to kiss on the bed.”
Oh wow! Who doesn't want to see that advert now, eh?
In fairness, the ASA's principal complaint was the screening of the ad during children's TV. Quite why Chanel felt toddlers would be interested in a product promoted by an actress on a motorcycle and a high-end photo shoot, rather than say a strawberry flavoured teddy bear, I can't imagine - but that's what happened. I'll discount the idea that Chanel's marketing bods realised a single, inappropriate showing of their work would spark a bit of controversy, thereby making the whole enterprise more successful. Nope, I'm sure that wasn't the case at all.
So, what is this festival of sensuality and flesh actually like. Well, judge for yourself ...
To me, this is just as silly as the Brad Pitt thing. It's a bit like pornography for people who find expensive coffee shops and Hermes scarves arousing - that is, not really very sexy at all. It's very long, but wastes a lot of time. There's plenty of beginning and middle, then a hurried and predictable end (actually making it quite a realistic metaphor for most erotic encounters, without realising it).
In its statement, the ASA mentioned the obvious sexual tension between Keira and the swarthy photographer, but they must have watched a different ad. The only tension I detected was in my own shoulders as I repeatedly thought 'I wish these hollow, conceited people would hurry up and get off my screen.'
Admittedly, as a middle-aged male of modest means, I am hardly in Chanel's target demographic. But if the brief was to write and shoot an expensive-looking and deeply sexy film, the ad only achieves the former.
Thanks for all the fuss Chanel, but I'm afraid this Valentine's Day, the current Mrs. Shaw will be enjoying a steak dinner, not a biker burn up through Rome. Besides, she only wears ... er ... y'know ... that one in the blue bottle ... oh, what's it called ....
Magnus Shaw is a blogger, copywriter and consultant