A dapper gent parks his luxury automobile and takes off his sunglasses. His gaze leads to a picturesque seaside residence, invoking the car/house paradigm of success, or in this case, the scent of it: Bentley Azure. Blue waters behind him blend with a soft sky reinforcing the distinctive color for which the fragrance is named, while the car’s metallic paint matches the top of the bottle. Tonally and visually balanced, the ad imparts a calming effect and functions as a preview to the satisfaction of an actual purchase.
And yet this polished construct belongs to imagery so common that it barely seems worth analyzing. Taking its message for granted, however, only strengthens its hold on normality and therefore reality. To a point, of course. How real are illustrations of affluence when people are confined to their homes, unable to exercise powers of social status? Might the magic dust sprinkled by advertisers start to wear off in isolation?
As social distancing measures in response to COVID-19 begin to alter perceptions of normality, rumors of corporate gaslighting in the near future also begin to spread. Although a vigorous reinstatement of the status quo is certainly plausible, whether it will be necessary from a business standpoint remains to be seen. The momentum established by decades and decades of advertising might need little more than a nudge. Indeed, consumers themselves might even jump-start the process, if only they have the money to spend…
Regardless of the economic uncertainties caused by the pandemic, the prestige of luxury brands and the influence of their logos remain intact. Reenter the land of Azure where Bentley’s winged emblem becomes a certification of cultural relevance or a stamp of approval that borrows from the iconography of religious and political power. Visible as an imprint outside the ad image and repeated within the frame, it serves to reinforce the brand and conflate the vehicle with the cologne. Even the side-view mirror reflects the emblem, embroidered on the headrests.
Theoretically, the ad works. But the question is: Has Azure, the epitome of a product reliant on marketing over substance, in fact tarnished the Bentley brand? The accompanying motto, Always with attitude, reeks of gratuitous bravado and begs another question: Why can’t a maker of fine automobiles stand by their creation and leave it at that? Must every luxury brand have its shopping-mall merchandise and cross-marketing project? The time and money spent on selling people things they don’t need surely points to the human capacity for madness. Day by day we move closer to ecological disaster, all the while flashing our toys and spritzing ourselves.
Does this mean that luxury goods have no place in our lives? Of course not. When they become the cultural focus, however, they transform into dangerous diversions. For example, is anyone making the connection between lavish self-preservation and a federal government unprepared for emergencies? In the land of Azure we find a lifestyle defined by a car, or, a value system in need of a tune-up.