One of my most hated adverts of the moment is this one, for Nivea moisturiser. It is unreadably bland – what is actually going on? How does it relate to the tagline, “Look ready to face the day”?
There are some conclusions that we can draw about what’s going on here. There’s a guitar, and the only thing in the ad that isn’t flesh tone or product is blue, so it’s clearly the room of the man pictured. (Blue, in case you lost that memo in primary school, is the boy’s colour.) The man’s suit (and shirt with cufflinks) and tie places him in a position of some responsibility, probably client or customer facing, in a traditional industry. It seems safe to conclude that we are looking at a successful male, between his mid twenties and mid thirties, in his own bedroom.
The girl in the bed, however, complicates the picture. There are two quite separate conclusions that we can draw about the man – and by extension, the product that he uses – from the presence of a blonde woman in the bed.
In the first reading, the woman is his girlfriend, fianceé or wife, and the product is the reason why she – along with the other symbols of worldly success – has come into his life. Having, thanks to Nivea moisturiser, been ready to face the day every day for the last decade, the man has a good job, a stable relationship, and a ground floor flat in a leafy suburb. The guitar, too, hints at a wide variety of expensive toys elsewhere in the flat. In this scenario, the moisturiser functions as The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People.
In the second reading, the woman is essentially a stranger, returning to his home following a night out, probably a heavy night out, probably with co-workers. Thanks to Nivea moisturiser, the man need not show this signs of last night’s debauch on his face at work the next morning; he is as together as he always is, and ready to face the day. The guitar, in so many cases more fun to play than to listen to, points to a life lived entirely for the self. The moisturiser, far from the trusted friend and counsellor of the first reading, is The Picture of Dorian Gray.
It’s obvious that I’m not the target market for this product. But I don’t think the story an advert tells should be quite this obfuscated.