Tuesday, January 23, 2007
At first, I thought she was holding a bottle of the newest star-branded perfume. But what Carmen Electra is hawking in the relatively new Saatchi and Saatchi ad campaign is not something you spray on to smell pretty, but something you ingest to lose weight. “I don’t do it for men. I don’t do it for women. I don’t do it for cameras or red carpets. I take NV for me.” Ah, the sound of the noble, independent woman. But is Electra really promoting a pure liberation from the critical eyes of men, women and the paparazzi? We have only to look as far as the name on the slick packaging to realize: no, no she’s not. NV is all about the perceptions of others, but only in as much as others can potentially boost our fragile egos with their delirious “NV”. Even the web address is shamelessly transparent: be-desired.com.
Saatchi and Saatchi is doing what ad agencies do best by crafting this thorough campaign, which was kicked off by a party featuring “a packed house of beautiful people.” The play by play of the party’s photo slideshow narrates the event: “Our stunning hostess makes her entrance. The press goes wild. Carmen Electra strikes her NV pose.” (This is news? And can a pose can be branded?) Complementing the hyped-up fluff surrounding the campaign, is a revolutionary way of packaging the product. This is not the infomercialized garish packaging of the suspicious diet pills consumers have come to expect, but the sleek, feminine look of a so-called “beauty pill” that promises not only weight loss, but beautiful hair, flawless skin and stronger nails. It’s a diet pill coming out of the shadows of the supplement store and into the bright lights of trusted “progressive retailers” like Wal-Mart, Target and Meijer.
If, as the film The Persuaders argues, the job of today’s ad agencies is to create an impenetrable culture around a product, S&S is doing a fantastic job, from the red lighting at the kick-off event to the list of helpful tips on the site and in the box such as standing up straight and focusing on your achievements rather than your failures. NV even served as the “official promotional partner” of the 2006 Mrs. America competition, giving a $2,500 cash award and a year’s supply of their product to top weight-loser, Mrs. Michigan (aka Jody Bernhardt) who lost 13 pounds in 12 weeks to come in at a competition weight of 115 pounds. “I like NV,” Bernhardt says on the site. “It doesn’t make me jittery like other diet pills I have used.” NV is, it appears, a culture within a culture in which diet pills are the norm.
For most of us, we’ll be seeing red with righteous anger, rather than “NV” as Electra frisks through the ocean on our television screens. But the fact remains that NV has doubled its profits every year since its introduction in 2000 and it stood to realize over 100 million in sales in 2006. Perhaps Electra is telling the truth after all about taking NV purely for herself. Ultimately, this campaign is about making an idol of how others perceive us, commanding that that perception be one of consuming envy and lust that is completely focused on our desirability. And we’re just not being true to ourselves if we’re not more desirable than everyone else in the room. With overtones of domination, competition and greed, the NV world stands in stark contrast to viewing others as the image of Christ and being a model of Christ in sacrificial love.
Perhaps the way of the cross wouldn’t stand up against the way of the pill in today’s marketing clutter, but there lurks a truth in the shadow of the cross more deeply fulfilling than, “Being an object of desire means feeling every bit as great as you look.” And that’s the fact that there’s never been a moment in the history of the universe when any one of us has not been desired by the Creator of all beauty.