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Advertising Reflections

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest, most authentic communication of all?

An article from AdWeek.com brought me to a nostalgic place recently when it examined the circa 1983 ad for Paco Rabanne cologne.

At the time the ad hit, I had just recently graduated with my marketing/advertising degree and was probably at an administrative assistant’s job trying to find meaningful work in the city. I loved advertising (still do) and loved any communications that had the appearance of “breakthrough” and “edgy” before ad masters even coined the phrase.

The ad was remarkable for its time, an intimate conversation between a man (still under the covers in his loft apartment) and a woman where the implication of more than a single night was being filtered through the feminist environment of the day. As reported in the website Basenotes.com the copy read:

"Hello?"
"You snore."
"And you steal all the covers. What time did you leave?"
"Six-thirty. You looked like a toppled Greek statue lying there. Only some tourist had swiped your fig leaf. I was tempted to wake you up."
"I miss you already."
"You're going to miss something else. Have you looked in the bathroom yet?"
"Why?"
"I took your bottle of Paco Rabanne cologne."
"What on earth are you going to do with it…give it to a secret lover you've got stashed away in San Francisco?"
"I'm going to take some and rub it on my body when I go to bed tonight. And then I'm going to remember every little thing about you…and last night."
"Do you know what your voice is doing to me?
"You aren't the only one with imagination. I've got to go; they're calling my flight. I'll be back Tuesday. Can I bring you anything?"
"My Paco Rabanne. And a fig leaf." 

And although the Adweek.com piece focused on the comparison of this “relationship defining” ad to the off-putting, purely sexual men’s fragrance ads we encounter today, my interest was in the ability of this ad to act as a reflection of the era vs. a shaper of it.

That is the eternal question – does the ad create aspirations (and subsequently a desire for things we don’t need) or does it simply hold up a mirror to our reality?  Thirty years later, is it breakthrough for breakthrough’s sake or does it hold historical meaning?  The debate arrives just in time for the discussion in my classes that grapples with the ethical, social and economic impact of advertising  -- what is tasteful, what is appropriate for kids, what is defining as compared with stereotypical.

Perhaps you remember this ad, perhaps not. But ironically, the creative lives on.

One student in my current course, as requested, developed new advertising for an existing product. She chose a female fragrance and designed a print ad in which a woman slept in bed in the background while the businessman, dressed for work was leaving in the foreground.  A bottle of the cologne was sticking out of the briefcase pocket and a sticky note was attached there too – sharing an intimate moment about being apart.

I’ll show her the Paco ad in the coming week.

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