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Sometimes it takes more than just a great image to make a great print ad.
Let me first acknowledge my biases here. I grew up with Muhammad Ali as one of my greatest heroes and I love Annie Leibovitz's photography. For a variety of reasons, both in and out of the ring, Ali was someone who I connected with deeply. Also, I fancy myself something of a (frustrated) portrait/people photographer and so I'm a big fan of Annie's work. She creates epic images!
So, seeing this image, I was immediately disposed to love the ad. Ali looks great. Still photography - in capturing just a brief nano-sliver of life - has the benefit of masking the afflictions that dominate The Champs' current appearance. He looks healthy and fit, which pleases this old fan. I'm guessing the child, who looks like he could be either a grandchild or a metaphor for a young Ali, is meant to be the object of Ali's wisdom. I love it as a standalone image.
When I consider this as a piece of advertising though, what is not clear to me is the connection between Ali, the boy, the bag and the brand. And herein lies the rub. Great advertising - even a print ad - tells a compelling story that presents the brand and product as the "hero". It positions the brand as a compelling answer to whatever question that the ad raises. As I say all the time, it is not enough to position your product and brand as a mere product placement - in your own ad. You can be subtle and creative, but also strategic and effective. You don't have to beat consumers over the head, but to maximize advertising's emotional impact (and therefore its over-all effectiveness), you have to successfully link your brand to a compelling consumer need. You have to present your brand as the unique solution to a problem - the resolution of which adds value to your consumers' lives and otherwise offers emotional uplift.
In image advertising, sometimes the default approach is to merely present your brand as a part of an aspirational scene. I guess the math is:
In my opinion, while this may work occasionally, it's a somewhat lazy tack that has no choice but to under-perform against a more deliberate, strategic approach. Again, why would you relegate your brand and product to be a mere product placement in your own ad?
This ad is almost wholly driven by the power of the image, which is mostly a function of who's in it. If you're of an age to be buying LV, Ali and the bag will probably catch your attention. It just could have been a much more compelling and persuasive piece if more thought had been invested in how to integrate Ali and the brand more effectively. For example, although we surmise that the bag is Ali's, what does that have to do with the kid?
Of course this reminds me of the American Express print campaign that Annie shot many years ago that showcased some awesome celebrity portraits. What made that campaign really work as advertising - and where this ad seems to be lacking - is the copy that complemented the image that cooly declared that the celebrity was a "Cardholder since . . ." . These were artful images of cultural icons who were also American Express card holders. Unfortunately, this ad lacks that kind of thematic connective tissue. The copy here is, "Some stars show you the way." OK, but in this ad, what does that have to do with LV? Are we really to believe that, although Ali might be showing this youngster some things about boxing that he's also hipping him to the brio of multi-thousand dollar Louis Vuitton bags? Does that make any sense? If that wasn't the intention, then - again - what does all of this have to do with LV? The brand is just a mere prop to something else that's going on wholly unrelated.
The problem with this is that consumers are connecting with Ali and the image but not nearly as much as they could with the brand. At the end of the day, it's just a waste of money. LV is 'leaving money on the table' by not more thoughtfully connecting the two; by not more strategically leveraging the convergence of Ali and Louis Vuitton to build its brand.
I'm guessing someone from Louis Vuitton wanted to recreate the American Express campaign for their brand. They called Annie and she shot them a wonderful image. Unfortunately, it just seems like there wasn't the strategic thinking surrounding the idea of the shot to pull it all together. It's a nice ad that could have been among 'the greatest'. Four stars for a great idea with a sub par execution.