The best advertising lists of the year have been rolled out, and they seem a bit misguided. At this point, looks like all the focus has been on the heartwarming, sociologically important or most aesthetically groundbreaking.
Too little attention has been paid to general stease (“style” plus “ease,” if you’re unaware) in ads, or those that just fit their product perfectly rather than dealing heavily in self-satisfied irony and meme-able flourishes. There is something to be said for the ad that embodies its product — in the form of a kind of Proustian sense-memory overload — rather than just making people remember the commercial and the brand name. Though I love the storied Little Richard GEICO commercial of 2007, most of my favorite ads function more like hyperbolic love letters to a product’s particular glory.
So I ask then: Why is the Johnny Depp-starring ad for Dior’s Sauvage fragrance not included on any of these supposedly definitive lists? Sure, I liked the animals in the Android spot as much as the next guy. But Depp’s ad for the new cologne — Dior’s first new one for men in over 10 years — is probably the most visceral and thought-provoking ad I’ve seen all year. It’s almost too perfect a realization of an ideal, as if someone just poured a bottle of Sauvage on a piece of paper and a treatment for this commercial magically appeared.
How could it be anything less than magic? What could humans have thought as Depp wails on electric guitar with just one hand, rendering a filthy “Bad to the Bone”/“Mannish Boy” blues lick in a barren room of a skyscraper, like the Joker waiting for Batman in the climax of The Dark Knight?
Something speaks to him through the distortion, as if to say Go West, John Depp! “I gotta get out of here,” he mutters. He hops in the expensive foreign whip, drives all day and all night. A CGI buffalo appears to him as he reaches a desert — a mirage or a dark omen?
The ad then dissects the Depp persona, as we know and love it. Our hero frantically makes off to a random point in the desert, like he’s Walter White stowing Walt Jr.’s meth-derived college money.
“What am I looking for?,” he mutters.
A vulture cries and flaps away as Depp hops out of the car, like a symbol of impending mortality — this must be the spot, Depp thinks. Something needs to change. How’s it gonna end for me: three more Tim Burton films, and an early grave? “There must be some way outta here”… a cue of Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” could have worked well in this section, but unfortunately, there’s already another electric guitar solo going on.
“It’s something I can’t see. I can feel it…” Depp’s mouth is way up on the voiceover mic.
But then, he finds the place. He digs a deep hole, then strips off and buries his Carribbean-core pirate bling. There is no need for it anymore.
The sky moves, and turns a burnt, then a purplish color. Time fades. The sun is setting on the old era — perhaps not just for Depp, but for masculinity itself. Our hero smiles at something on the darkening horizon, off-screen — some change in the fabric of the universe — and we finally see the Jack Sparrow eyeliner, caked thick like war paint. A bottle soars in, obscuring the scene.
Sauvage is everything Depp had been trying to externalize about his inner self — his pirate chains had been like prison bonds. The perfume swallows up the reality of the ad, sending the sky into time-lapse photography. Like a ship in a bottle, Depp’s whole world is drawn into a vial of Sauvage.
Advertising may be mostly a pestilence on our society, but love or hate this commercial, you have to admire an ad that seems to come directly from the heart — or at least the unmediated id. You don’t see the fat cats’ fingerprints all over it; it’s a labor of love. Amongst our need for weird postmodern juxtaposition in our ads, it’s refreshing to have fashion ads of this nature just going all out Romantic free association on us. The viewer drowns in this ad, like the VIP area of some Ibizan club might in the actual scent of Sauvage.
Congratulations, Johnny Depp and Dior, you won the year.