But the new Louis Vuitton ad featuring Muhammad Ali made me pause. The three-year-old in the photo – shot last month by Annie Leibovitz – holds a feet-apart-chest-out stance that seems to say the same sort of thing his 70-year-old grandfather once brashly blurted: “I’m puuritty. I’m the grrreatest.”
I googled and sure enough, a baby picture of Mr. Ali shows the champ looked just like that in the mid 1940s. That led me to YouTube to watch a couple of Ali fights (wow, was he fast), then to google more of his biography (among the tragedies: he was refused service in a segregated Kentucky restaurant after winning an Olympic gold medal).
This led me back to study the Louis Vuitton ad, and golly if I didn’t take a long gander at that $1,525 Keepall logo bag in the photo.
By drawing me to dive deeper into its world, this ad stands out in the sea of largely unmemorable fashion and luxury ads that rely on nudity or shock value to grab a split-second of our scattered attention.
They’re churned out by rote. “It’s just art direction of the photograph, and then you slap the logo on,” says Jan Wilker, partner at KarlssonWilker Inc., an innovative New York design firm that has avoided that formula. It blended London fashions with car bodies for BMW Mini.
Fashion and luxury ads rarely win big ad-industry awards. LG Electronics, Ikea, the World Wildlife Federation, Gatorade, and Toyota have won Clio awards. But despite their substantial volume of ads, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, and Ralph Lauren – have not, according to the Clio archives.
In an age when so much other advertising is challenging, funny, or entertaining, why is much of the fashion industry relying on stale ideas?
“You don’t win awards for image advertising,” says Lars Bastholm, chief creative officer for Cheil USA, who has previously worked on Louis Vuitton campaigns at Ogilvy & Mather. “Great advertising tends to use humor, and humor doesn’t really have a place in luxury.” Humor brings you down to earth, he explains, while fashion ads sell a dream.
Some players are testing the wink-wink waters. Hansgrohe, the high end plumbing maker, recently advertised its designer Axor line with photos of several configurations of a sink designed by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. “Feel free to compose,” the ad invites. And that’s exactly what I did, mentally. When an ad captures two minutes of anyone’s time, that’s big.
I’ve not finished pondering that Ali-Vuitton ad. The kid — son of retired boxer Laila Ali and her former NFL hubby Curtis Conroy — is wearing boxing gloves, for instance.
No, says Lonni Ali, Mr. Ali’s wife: the kid doesn’t box. At least not yet. His father, after all, plays football.