Angelina Jolie is the new face for St. John Knits, a cause for surprise in some circles. St. John is famous for clothing the senior executive. Their suits are favored by Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. Was Angelina Jolie exactly the right choice?
Allen Adamson at Landor thinks so.
"Angelina is hot right now, she’s fashionable and she’s edgy. Maybe she’s not as nice as some of her fans would like her to be. But in branding it’s better to have a bit of an edge, because you get more attention."
There is a systematic way to think about this. A celebrity endorsement is a little like a metaphor. Meanings from one term, the celebrity, are proposed for the other term, the brand. If the audience finds the comparison plausible, transfer takes place. The meaning of the brand is changed. For better or worse.
So what meanings does Angelina Jolie make available to St. John Knits? Normally, we would answer this question carefully, thoughtfully, and with the benefit of consumer and cultural research. But this is the seat-of-the-pants world of blog construction where things happen with the speed of day-time television and shameless ad-hocery of the soap opera producer. ("I know! Let’s just say he didn’t die after all!")
Hastily, then, we could say that Angelina Jolie stands for a couple of things. First, she appears to be an old fashioned Hollywood star. People do keep using this phrase, applying it to actresses as diverse as Annette Benning and Catherine Zeta Jones. Jolie’s version of the old time Hollywood star makes her a return of the voluptuous. She is an act of physical, social, and emotional extravagance. She is out of scale. Lips, hips, breasts, eyes, hair. Sometimes the actress dwarves even her roles (even when these are Lara Croft). In the 60s, we seemed to be asking that our stars return to human scale. Then we snapped out of it.
Second, the out-scaled quality of this star carries off the screen into her private life. Jolie lives large. She experiments with her sexuality. She fights with family members as if reenacting Greek myths. She plays the guardian angel to the children of the third world. She steals husbands even when they are an American sweetheart. She wrecks even the special families thta everyone wishes well. She is indifferent to bourgeois rules and regs, and happy to take her leave of them.
Third, there is to her character, on screen and off, a certain knowingness. There is none of the simple generosity that Marilyn Monroe manufactured. There is none of the matter of factness with which Pamela Anderson says she is just tagging along with her breasts. Jolie is fully observant, well informed, pretty intelligent and unforgiving witness to it all. She may mean it. She may not. She’s got that 1990s irony thing down cold. Madonna with a heart. Courtney Love with a brain. There’s someone home.
On balance, and until someone pays me a breathtaking sum of money, this can only be surmise, Angelina Jolie does not look to me the perfect choice for St. John Knits. Sure, they are trying to recruit a new consumer, someone a little younger than their present loyalist who’s about 55. But, according to Agin’s story in the WSJ, St. John wants to keep the existing constituency, women of wealth and power. For this group, I’m guessing, Jolie is a bull in the china shop. A lovely bull, but a dangerous one.
Now, in marketing, as in all else, the devil is in the details. The art of marketing is to create campaigns that help select (and exclude) certain of Jolie’s meanings so that only some of them transfer. There is "wiggle room" here. But it feels like the heart, the centre of these bundle of meanings is well off the mark.
Agins, Teri. 2005. A Fashion Conservative Teams Up With Tattooed Starlet. Wall Street Journal. September 15, 2005.
McCracken, Grant. 2005. Who is the celebrity endorser? Culture and Consumption II: Markets, meaning, and brand management. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 97-115.