Chanel’s Viral Films (UPDATED)

5 06 2009

Originally posted May 25, 2009

Failure for Social Media?

After articles like this one in Business Week, which claim that social media has no presence in consumer purchasing considerations, I thought I would take another look at Chanel and the company’s recent cinematic commercial initiatives, which have been creating a viral extravaganza for the last couple of years.

I’m with Ruth Mortimer in thinking that luxury brands can use the avenues of digital media to provide vehicles for brand ambassadors and fans to influence consumer spending through viral marketing.

The French powerhouse has created this buzz through their short films, which are actually cinematic commercial spots that were soon followed after by Dior, Prada and others (though with less buzz).

The goal of these cinematic campaigns is to provide the greatest creative and entertainment value, which resonates best with moviegoers- a young, affluent and educated demographic that is highly valued within the advertising community. With the modern in-theater market and new technologies of dispersion, the quality of cinema advertising has soured exponentially. The challenge was to create something worthy of consideration from existing or potential luxury markets.

Stopping short of creating a Facebook page for the brand, Chanel instead focused its efforts on creating brand-worthy commercials told from the perspective of the House of Chanel, which were also considered entertainment-worthy by the fans. Fans (and critiques) took over from there, building hype, passing the video campaigns across the internet and voting, tagging and commenting on what they saw.

The immense budgets of these films shows just where the brand’s money-maker lies: fragrance.

Updating an Old Favorite

Chanel’s first commercial blockbuster was released in 2005, staring Nicole Kidman and directed by her Moulin Rouge visionary, Baz Luhrmann. With a +50 million euro budget, Chanel focused efforts on repositioning their biggest money-maker, Chanel No. 5, for a then-booming US market. (Oh, how the times have changed!)

The brand sought to update the image of No. 5 for the American youth market, who typically viewed this fragrance as a relic from grandma’s dating years. Loaded with strong, opulent and innovative visuals, the “fashionable” director created the ad film as a movie trailer spanning more than 2 minutes. Most modern consumers associated the fragrance with the romantic lifestyle of mid-century France. In an effort to stay relevant and up-to-date, avoiding the classic undertones, the commercial is set in NYC instead of Paris, and all dialogue is in English.

Themes of romance, escapism, adventure, mystique, an example of exquisite haute couture, the use of men’s wear and even a little high/low-class rendezvous is inserted to balance the updated image with the brand history.

Various postings of the commercial short have collectively received more than 2 million views on YouTube alone, with over 1,000 comments.

The perfume continues to be one of the most widely purchased fragrances of all time.

A New Classic

Following the success of the initial campaign, Chanel developed a second cinematic commercial spot, this time to introduce a modern fragrance to capture the essence of the brand for today’s market, without interfering with the positioning of the “Old Classic,” No. 5.

The short film for Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle fragrance focused on historic references to the brand’s namesake, Coco Chanel, using a modern actress and a timeless Parisian set. Coinciding with the launch of her 2007 movie, Atonement, Keira Knightly starred in the spot as a variation of Coco herself through imagery associated with the codes of the brand: the men’s shirt, the classic hat, the famed mirrors of Chanel’s Paris apartment, the camellias woven into a bracelet; all with a touch of elegance, sophistication and romance.

There is even a focus on mix-and-match, where the actress removes her ankle bracelet and uses it as a necklace (it contains pearls, of course). Silly, yes, but it gets the point across: this fragrance represents the modern ideal of Chanel herself.

Demonstrating less viral activity, the commercial film received fewer than half a million hits on YouTube, but the associated print ads created quite a buzz in the blog world.

Revisiting the Classic

After the success of the 2006 campaign staring Nicole Kidman, Chanel again sought to produce a blockbuster ad that would address the entire international community while building hype for the upcoming release of the biopic “Coco Avant Chanel” (Coco Before Chanel).

The 2009 commercial film features Audrey Tautou, star of Amelie and The Da Vinci Code, and is directed by Amelie’s Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Unlike the Kidman film, the Tautou version includes no dialogue, with the exception of a night train conductor asking for the starlet’s passport in French. The rich sound and visuals tell a story of an independent, young first-class traveler who falls in love with a mysterious man in her neighboring train cabin on their way from the Limoges Bénédictins station in France to Istanbul. The fellow traveler is seduced by the young woman’s scent, No. 5.

This commercial has all the entertainment value of the original Kidman spot, but aside from featuring one solitary pearl, it lacks the traditional codes of the brand. What it achieves is bringing home the message of romance to No. 5 for the international community, featuring today’s most famous young French starlet together with the classic love song, Billie Holiday’s “I’m a Fool to Want You”.

Just released this month, the film already has a combined YouTube hit rate of less than 100,000 and enough pages of comments to show that people are engaged, for better or for worse.

UPDATE:

Apparently, I missed this legal notice on Chanel’s own website, but was shocked to learn from the Business of Fashion site that the following is stated:

“No part of this website may be copied, reproduced, republished, uploaded, posted, transmitted or distributed in any way for commercial purposes. This prohibition also includes framing any content from this site on another site, as well as unauthorized linking…use of material from this site without CHANEL’s prior written consent is strictly prohibited.”

That doesn’t indicate a very clear understanding of viral marketing, does it? Frankly, I was a little surprised that the site did not offer embedding capabilities, although I understand that the brand doesn’t want their “commercial” to appear just anywhere. However, to outwardly restrict the very act that makes these videos so successful is a bit shortsighted, if you ask me!

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2 responses

30 05 2009
Jessada Juntason

Hello, very interesting article. I completely agree. I think that establishing relationship with prospective and existing customers is a very important part of every business. Advertising plays a great role in the success or failure most of times. Thank you. I read the article with pleasure.

30 05 2009
eurbanista

Thank you for the comment! I think that Chanel proves that -in luxury- even viral marketing, when done well, can provide both brand education for new markets and a reason for existing markets to get excited! Let’s see what they come up with next.

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