The Chanel No 5 Brad Pitt decision: Was it worth $7,000,000?

Was the Chanel No 5 Brad Pitt decision to make him the face of the brand one that worked? Perhaps the answer lies in the buzz it’s since created.

Was the Chanel No 5 Brad Pitt decision to make him the face of the brand one that worked? Perhaps the answer lies in the buzz it's since created.

The Chanel No 5 Brad Pitt decision: Was it worth $7,000,000?

brad pitt 467 The Chanel No 5 Brad Pitt decision: Was it worth $7,000,000?In the world of advertising, there are more than a fair share of nay-sayers who found Brad Pitt as a choice to be a new face for Chanel — specifically, Chanel No. 5, the iconic women’s scent — to be an odd choice. After all, Chanel isn’t known for revolutionary decisions, and a male face such as Pitt’s raises a great question of what he could possibly bring to sell an already very well-known name: Was the Chanel No 5 Brad Pitt decision the right move?

After seeing the commercials, I think we have our answer, but let’s not be so quick about this. After all, what sells a product better than sex? And who better to symbolize that than the man who’s been twice voted “The World’s Sexiest Man”? And let’s be realistic, the market has changed quite a bit from the clientele who at one time sauntered to the Chanel counter to replenish their supply of Chanel No 5. No longer are department stores and boutiques the sole domain of Dior, Estee and Guerlain, but now they’re sharing the limelight with such iconic perfumers such as…Snooki and J-Woww? Ok, so there’s no accounting for fleeting tastes, much less having no discerning tastes at all, so when all else fails, let’s resort to selling the juice by providing the impression of a sexy male role model extolling incoherency and waxing philosophical about the aroma of Chanel No 5 being…well, to paraphrase Pitt, ubiquitous.

The results? Madison Avenue’s best and brightest used the combination of that and delivered precisely what we might have expected: Typical Chanel.

Two ads that wax philosophic and incoherently, featuring a rugged and cavalier Pitt speaking about the ephemeral experience of Chanel No 5. Did they need this? Probably. What did it create? Like it or not, buzz. Chatter. People are talking about Chanel No 5 and Brad Pitt, for better or for worse. The sheer comedy of the commercial sticks in your mind, but that is what will drive traffic to the fragrance counter. Moreover, it’s spawned a cottage industry of parodies, and you know something has become part of pop-culture when Saturday Night Live has picked it up and driven it virally in no less than four different versions of the ad in parody form.

Was that not enough to suggest that this has become part of the collective buzz? I’ll serve up some additional cheese from Leif Garrett…and a dog.

The question I have not heard, however, is this: How is this different than any other fragrance ad campaign? Submitted for your review are the following examples from other houses, including prior adverts from Chanel.

First, let’s go with Kate Moss and the original commercial for Calvin Klein’s Obsession:

And who could forget Secret Obsession? Well…perhaps we did. So did Calvin Klein.

Or Eternity

Or Escape

You easily get the feeling that the marketing copy is from a stock bin of well-tested ideas, and any are ripe for parody. Or, apparently, any one:

But who in the world is ever supposed to understand perfume commercials anyway? Like this one, again for Chanel, this time promoting Egoiste circa 1990.

I’m not certain why each of these women opens their shutters to holler in French, presumably at this chap, other than perhaps he’s shagged most of them.  Nonetheless, many of us probably recall the advert. The fragrance? Perhaps not so much. But back to Chanel No 5 for a moment, and the version I’ve demonstrated is the French advert which has better continuity than the US version (explains why there is one shoe, then suddenly two).

Charlize Theron, however, in this J’adore ad for Dior, epitomizes sexiness, and the soundtrack sets a brilliant vibe for the entire commercial.

Without digressing too much, let me make the case a bit more clear. We aren’t purchasing a fragrance from a TV advert because someone has described the notes and they match a profile we like. We’re not going to get hooked into the fantasy of a designer juice simply because of the notion of a name. As buyers, we want something that makes us think because a fragrance, after all, is an ephemeral feeling that cannot adequately be described in a 30 second ad spot.  The entire notion is to get you in front of the sales associate asking to sample the scent because you were intrigued. Perhaps confused. Even perplexed by the message being conveyed. The commercial is simply art.

Or more to the point, as seen through the lens of the Bleu de Chanel advert above, it’s a pretty face and sexual chemistry conveying that art-form.

So back to the subject of Chanel No 5′s Brad Pitt Decision. Chanel spent $7,000,000 to make Brad Pitt their face, just as they’ve used Nicole Kidman and Keira Knightley in the past, or Catherine Deneuve many years ago. The bottom-line is that they knew they needed to broaden the appeal of a sophisticated scent to a larger (and younger) demographic. Ergo, Brad Pitt, and we’re all talking about it, or you’re at least reading this piece. Of course it worked, and Pitt is perfect to play to the level of aloofness that makes anyone wonder, “What the hell was he talking about?” He’s nailed the part of the ever-so-conflicted man who cannot shake that ubiquitous fragrance out of his consciousness, and someone at this very moment is perhaps ruminating on the notion that “this fragrance must be so alluring that it would appeal to men just like Pitt.”

Watch for Chanel No 5′s renaissance in a younger generation, or perhaps in the ‘Cougar’ set.

Scentrist welcomes discussion and opposing points of view. Feel free to share.

Keys: Chanel No 5, Brad Pitt, commercials, advertising.

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About Andrew Buck

Andrew Buck is the editor-in-chief of Scentrist.com, and a lifelong appreciator and aficionado of fragrance. He's also the author "(Not) PMO-in-a-Can", a practitioner's perspective on project management, in addition to several articles on the topic. When not writing or discovering new scents, he is a technology manager in New York's Wall Street financial sector. You can read more about him on the "About" page, or say hi to him on Twitter @scentrist.
  • http://salondeparfum-sherapop.blogspot.com/ sherapop

    Great post, Andrew–thank you!

    I agree that the chatter generated by this dubious undertaking is probably worth ten coherent ad campaigns!

    Does Brad make me want to don Chanel no 5? No. Has caused me to reflect upon why that perfume is such an icon still today? Yes, indeed.

  • http://www.scentrist.com Andrew Buck

    So Sherapop,I guess the follow-up question is whether you liked Chanel No 5 regardless of Brad Pitt.

    Given this is the age in which Andy Warhol said “everyone will be famous for 15 minutes” — and a few of those are past their time limits — it takes changing the marketing around to appeal to the new masses who don’t know that much beyond the latest celebrity fragrance of the week. They may don all the Chanel bling they can find, but surprisingly they probably couldn’t tell you a thing about No 5.

  • http://salondeparfum-sherapop.blogspot.com/ sherapop

    I’m afraid that I missed the Chanel no 5 boat. Zsa Zsa Gabor is the image which comes to mind when I wear the eau de parfum or parfum–which I do every once in a while, in the quixotic hope of finally experiencing the ecstatic moment about which so many devotees have waxed lyrical. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

    Yes, I agree: most people who wear the bling have no idea what the perfume smells like!

  • http://salondeparfum-sherapop.blogspot.com/ sherapop

    I forgot to answer your question: Was it worth $7 million dollars?

    My answer: Was it worth $7?


  • http://www.scentrist.com Andrew Buck

    And I’m not a Chanel devotee either, Sherapop. I’m among those who thought that the originals of Egoiste and Antaeus were interesting, and I adore No. 5 even though I find No. 19 more versatile and contemporary (I could probably pull off No. 19 and not feel boorish about it). It’s worth $7M if you consider the buzz factor. I almost hate to say it, but it’s the “Gangnam Style” of the moment for commercial art — ripe for parody, equally laughable, and it’s like a train wreck that we can’t stop watching. To me? $7M sounds about right.

    Consider that we could have gotten something like that really lousy Bleu de Chanel ad or a Vangelis soundtrack with the woman lounging at poolside.