Analyzing the Chanel Mother’s Day Ad

This Chanel Mother’s Day ad from 2015 drives me crazy.

I first encountered this ad on LinkedIn. A respected marketer praised it with the comment, “the most human brand wins.” That compliment makes sense until you think about any other ad Chanel has made in the last 20 years. The majority are distinctly “un-human.” 

For example, take a look at the following:

Source: Viau

If the most human brand really wins, I’d suggest Chanel, along with Gucci, Rolex, and Rolls Royce should fire everyone who works in their marketing department and start hiring from Walmart’s team. Luxury brands use a style that transcends day-to-day human reality, creating a stylish and dramatic universe. If human brands always win, I’d love to see an explanation of why bazillions of dollars are being spent to do the exact opposite.

This hyper-fashionable style makes sense, but the Chanel Mother’s Day ad breaks from it. When analyzing strategy, it is critical to pay attention to moves that are out-of-sync with the broader approach. These are either a mistake, or they are brilliant. Chanel are world experts in branding and print advertising, so it is worthwhile to do analysis to see if we can learn anything.

Luxury Advertising

Before looking at the Chanel Mother’s Day ad, I want to acknowledge that luxury advertising is a totally different beast than other forms of marketing. Analyzing a high fashion ad is like talking about playing basketball on the moon. The rules may be the same, but the underlying environment is entirely foreign. You need direct experience to understand the game.

For those who haven’t done this kind of advertising, we should acknowledge that we may not understand the big picture. Every ad needs to be conscious of maintaining a precise long-term brand image. There may be a lot going on that we are missing.

Chanel’s Brand Image

Quickly think of three words you would use to describe Chanel. Mine would be chic, fashionable, and expensive. I strongly suspect few people would include words like mom, family, and motherhood.

Why doesn’t “mom” rank? Surely many of Chanel’s customers are mothers. Motherhood is not cool or fashionable. Many mothers want to be stylish, but “moms” as a category are uncool almost by definition. Most of their ads emphasize chic luxury, which is out of step with the image of motherhood. Chanel is delighted for mothers to buy their products, but they take care to not to make Chanel look like a brand “for moms.”

The Chanel Mother’s Day ad deviates from its conventional image. Doesn’t this have a chance of confusing their brand identity? It is hard for something to be both “family-friendly” and “expensive” or both “motherly” and “sexy.” 

The Chanel Mother’s Day Ad

With that said, here are five ideas of why Chanel made this ad. These are not mutually exclusive.

Getting Wives to Ask Husbands for Chanel No. 5

It is worth asking who this ad is for. This is the question that I find the most perplexing. Mother’s Day is about giving gifts to moms. Is this ad meant to encourage kids to buy perfume for their mothers? Obviously not. Even an adult child with the money probably wouldn’t buy Chanel No. 5 for Mother’s Day – perfume is seen as a romantic gift.

This ad also doesn’t seem aimed at romantic partners. The ad is about the mother-child relationship, not the husband-wife relationship. If you really wanted to get men to buy perfume for their wives, you would (tastefully) suggest that gifting Chanel will get you laid. This ad is distinctly un-sexy. Men are also substantially less likely to recognize Chanel No.5 than women.

This ad seems targeted at mothers themselves. They may be encouraging women to ask their partners for perfume. Chanel No. 5 may not be the first Mother’s Day gift you think to ask for, but this ad might be trying to get mothers to broaden their thinking.

Normalizing Mothers Wearing Chanel

As mentioned above, luxury goods and motherhood aren’t a perfect fit. Moms might see classy perfumes as too indulgent. Stereotypes around motherhood are connected to sacrifice and putting your own needs and wants behind everyone else. It is hard to square this with the opulence of a brand like Chanel.

This ad attempts to normalize luxury motherhood. You can be a mom and still want to be chic. Asking for nice things (i.e., overpriced perfume) isn’t unmotherly. It stops short of portraying “chic motherhood,” which might go too far in transgressing the brand identity.

Chanel No. 5 Is So Iconic that Even Kids Recognize It

Perhaps this is just a statement about how iconic the perfume is. It seems strange to advertise that you are iconic – that should be self-evident and is not a feature or benefit you experience when using the product. Still, popularity and demand are seen as a proxy for quality, so bragging about how well-known you are suggests your product is fabulous.

Maybe this is meant to actually be a joke? I don’t think many kids would recognize Chanel perfume, so the idea that a child would know what it is and decide to draw it for their mother is kinda funny. If this is a joke, one could ask questions about the effect this would have on their brand image. Luxury goods are inherently ridiculous, but they take themselves quite seriously.

Attention-Grabbing

We notice things that look out of place. This ad uses a style typical of other Chanel ads. The minimalist white, the defined shape of the bottle, and the bold black lettering. Here is what you see if you try to buy Chanel No. 5 on their website:

The Chanel Mother’s Day ad flips this on its head. Things that contradict our expectations really catch our attention. Once we notice it, we think about it, and then talk about it.

Media

In line with grabbing attention, Chanel might be hoping the campaign attracts a few articles in fashion blogs and popular media. Generating “buzz” is attractive, even if you are a fancy luxury brand.

In fact, a brand like Chanel wants to portray itself as more than a luxury brand. They want to act like they are a unique piece of culture. By generating online chatter about their advertising, they make themselves look more important than they are.

Is Chanel a “Human” Brand?

These explanations only work because Chanel is an “un-human” brand. Chanel has a specific brand image, and they are transgressing it in a clever and self-referential way. If the company already had a reputation as a human brand, this ad would have little impact.

None of this is to say “human” advertising is bad. I’m reading Alchemy by Rory Sutherland, which discusses the advantages of human irrationality and its relation to branding and advertising. One point he makes is, “Sometimes the opposite of a good idea is also a good idea.” In this case, extremely human ads can be just as effective as extremely un-human ones. 

Chanel’s ad campaign for Mother’s Day 2022 is a riff on the 2015 campaign. Still, you will notice that most of their advertising in the intervening 7 years does not follow this style.

PS – Happy Mother’s Day

Jesse Harris, M.Sc., M.A.Sc.
Jesse Harris, M.Sc., M.A.Sc.

Jesse is a Marketing and Communications Specialist at ACD/Labs. He has graduate degrees in Chemistry and an MASc in Chemical engineering. Jesse has been writing on the internet since 2015, and is passionate about science writing and marketing.

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