The latest Chanel No. 5 commercial reveals a new philosophical depth to Brad Pitt.
Perfume ads aren’t known for their depth. They usually consist of little more than an attractive celebrity looking glamorous and reciting a script of sweet nothings in a seemingly random setting. Most perfume advertisers use a tried and tested combination of shiny things and big words they think will create a sense of cool in the mind of the dribbling consumer they imagine is watching their commercials.
Not Chanel No. 5 though. Oh no. This ad is different. It engages its viewers in a profound philosophical debate, exploring the moral and psychological issues that are tied up in the choosing of a scent to cover yourself in to disguise the putrid smell of human existence.
And, ever the postmodernist, Brad’s poem is highly self-referential, interrogating the very notion of a perfume advertisement.
To fully appreciate the essence of Brad’s ponderings, we must deconstruct his verse and extract its true meaning, line by line. We begin with his opening words:
It’s not a journey.
Brad begins his diatribe with the deictic term, “it,” immediately posing questions over the subject of his musings. His denial that “it” is a journey holds the implicit meaning that the subject is an action. He may be referring to the commercial itself because, unlike a traditional journey, we as viewers are left in precisely the same position as when the ad began – slumped on our sofa watching a series of shiny short films while we wait for X Factor to return to the screen.
Every journey ends.
But we go on.
Next Brad plunges into existentialism, bringing into question established notions of death. The ”we” he refers to may indicate the group of mega-rich A-list celebrities he belongs to, who will of course be immortalised through film, but also through the various pacts many of them have made with dark, supernatural entities (such as the marketing departments of luxury brands).
The world turns and we turn with it.
The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclides Ponticus originally asserted that the Earth rotates on its axis in the 4th Century BC. By invoking Ponticus, who was famously vain (his detractors often called him “Pompicus”), Brad’s verse implies the inherent vanity in perfume advertising – a trope that is reinforced by his well-preened yet rugged appearance and indulgent pauses between lines.
Dreams take over.
This couplet alludes to the peculiar condition of narcolepsy, which can cause its victims to fall asleep at inconvenient moments – an ailment than can destroy the best laid plans. This metaphor signifies the creative process of an ad, in which a well-planned marketing strategy can be abandoned unwittingly by various people involved as they fall accidentally into a dream world where derivative and vacuous commercials are considered a good idea.
But wherever I go,
There you are:
Here Brad addresses further the absurdity of the industry that manipulates people like him, luring them to the “fate” of career-wrecking projects through the “fortune” they offer – anything up to $10 million for a film like this. The notion of “luck” here is perplexing, leaving the audience to decide whether his own has been good or bad.
Chanel No. 5.
Whether Brad’s monologue has enlightened or entertained his audience is rendered irrelevant as he concludes the poem with a less figurative point. After years of superficial perfume ads building towards this style, Brad sees his deconstruction of the genre as “inevitable.” Juxtaposing this point with his earlier allusions to death, he implies that, like all artistic creations, the hollow perfume ad’s death was contained within its inception – that, ultimately, this moment was destined to come and destroy its own clichéd conventions.