AmEx – Turn That Frown Upside Down!

October 4, 2009 at 11:17 pm (advertising, commercials, Design, marketing, TV advertising) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I think this new spot from American Express is both clever and fun – I mean, who doesn’t like anthropomorphosised products? I know when I look around I see faces on many different products, and it looks like I’m not the only one. American Express took this idea and added a story around it. I like the frowning shower curtain and how the hanger is swinging in the “…they can be stolen” shot, as if the item was just taken. Toward the end of the commercial there are two shots are nearly perfect – one is a smiling chair (0:33), the other is filmed on a boat (0:45). Not all the images are clearly faces, at about 48 seconds in to the commercial there is an image of a baggage claim, which is a little too obscure, it took a few viewings to determine where the face was hiding. The music, an excerpt from Suite for Cello No.1 in G Major by Johann Sebastian Bach, was perfect as it can conveys both a somber tone and happy tone equally.

This ad has stirred a little controversy since it came out last month. Many praise it for the simplicity of the imagery, beautiful tonalities of the music (excerpt from Suite for Cello No.1 in G Major by Johann Sebastian Bach?), and simple message, but some are crying foul. The photographic duo of brothers Francois and Jean Robert have produced 3 books – Face to Face (1996), Faces (2000), and Find a Face (2004) – which show everyday objects appearing as faces. There are individuals who are claiming that this ad is a blatant plagiarism of the Robert’s photographic genius; the brothers are not a part of these accusations at this time. Below are images from both the commercial and the works of the Robert brothers – remarkably similar I must admit.

Whether you look at this spot as a beautifully simple expression of everyday objects set to a story, or as an offensive piece of derivative commercialization, you have to admit that the use of such pedestrian objects in a creative way is well done. I enjoyed the commercial; it has entertained me, and even if it is not an intentional piracy of Francois and Jean Robert’s work it has at least introduced me to it, and for that I am grateful.

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1 Comment

  1. Jane said,

    Yes, everyone has seen happy and sad faces because Francois and Jean Robert have been producing books with faces since 1978. Francois and Jean Robert have helped all of you SEE the world in a different way because of their books. Photographic genius? perhaps not An original idea? Perhaps, perhaps not… but they HAVE produced 4 books over the years with copyrighted images.

    Ogilvy & Mather approached Mr. Robert in 2006 about using his faces for an Audi commercial, didn’t use him, but used the “faces idea” anyway… then the same agency uses “faces” again for American Express in 2009. Coincidence? I think not.

    The agency basically used Francois Robert’s book as a story board to create this commercial. The shopping bag, wallet, are headphones compared side by side are almost identical.

    The question still, is, who owns an idea?
    Is is OK to steal the idea for commercial gain in the case of Ogilvy & Mather?
    Is it OK because agencies do this all of the time?

    What if it were YOUR idea? YOUR music? YOUR industrial design?

    How would you feel?

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