Last week, British Vogue revealed that the new face of Chanel N°5 will be… are you ready? Marilyn Monroe. While her beauty is fitting with past ambassadors for the brand – the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Carole Bouquet, Nicole Kidman and Audrey Tautou – there is one thing that sets Miss Monroe apart. This is a role she is taking 51 years after her death.
Celebrity endorsement are a delicate business at the best of times, and using the deceased to promote your product comes with a whole raft of issues. Some might question the sensitivity of such campaigns, not least because the departed (presumably) have no say in the matter. There’s also something vaguely unsettling about being sold something by someone who has passed on.
However, Chanel’s choice of muse is undeniably successful, for a number of reasons. First of all, there is nothing fictional about Monroe’s endorsement. Her quote about the fragrance – “What do I wear in bed? Why, Chanel No. 5, of course.” – is among her most famous, and is just as much part of Chanel’s brand myth as it is Marilyn’s.
The campaign was prompted by the apparent ‘discovery’ of a recording of an interview, in which she originally uttered the famous phrase. The image of a lost recording featuring the starlet being unearthed in some dusty archive is a seriously romantic one. And it chimes well with the dream-like universe of perfume. We have already seen the (re)discovery narrative used by luxury brands – Scottish distillery Glen Garioch, reopened in 1997 after having been mothballed a few years earlier, and later released a very limited edition whisky from ‘rediscovered’ casks.
The use of Marilyn’s instantly recognizable voice will add a powerfully emotive element to the campaign, giving her the kind of presence that can’t be achieved by image alone. This presence could prove very evocative. Sound is a much underused tool in marketing, and here Chanel are being particularly innovative by appealing to a sense beyond smell, their fragrance’s traditional sensory territory.
We’ll have to wait until December to see the campaign, but it looks like it will be a lesson to other brands- in how to tastefully employ iconic figures to elaborate a brand myth.