L’Odyssey de Cartier: Ad Kitsch Epic
I understand that I am lagging behind the times, and that this ad has been a thorn in humankind’s side for two years. All the same, most of the reactions I found online were hardly critical, offering up vague oohs and ahs. Comments on the ad’s Youtube page can be almost as overblown as this three-minute monstrosity. Since this ad took two years to make, it’s only fair for me to jab it two years after it lands on us. What makes this ad fascinating to me is how it dolls up its “sophisticated” and “elegant” imperialism, offering us the same kind of jewel-encrusted finery we saw in Craig Thompson’s Habibi, only this time it’s literally jewel-encrusted. Running a company that shills out shiny rocks extracted from semi-colonial countries is a wretched business at the best of times, but Cartier expends an astonishing amount of effort trying to make you buy into their colonialist dream world.
Basic concept of the ad: a French leopard escapes from its diamond prison and goes on a fantastic journey through the colonized world before returning to Paris on an old-timey airplane. On the way, he encounters a Chinese dragon,
more sad-looking bedazzled animals,
an Indian city speared into the back of an elephant,
this white dude,
and a mysterious woman in a red dress, just to push some last-minute sexist decoration into the ad.
The entire commercial runs three and a half minutes, making it the Gone With the Wind of advertising in more than one way. You need to understand that I am a big cat. I have almost inexhaustible reserves of sympathy for the plight of cats in film and television roles. When our kind gets a big shot at fame like this, I am hard pressed to insult the product. At the same time, turning China and India into unpopulated fantasy worlds that exist only to lend false grandeur to your ostentatious mining products seems a step too far. Maybe two or three steps, actually. At the end, you pair the exotic cat with a vaguely exotic-looking woman (no one’s done that before, right?), and the wheel of clichés goes full circle. Children’s choirs that sound like they were sampled from Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings scores don’t help matters much, being only slightly less ridiculous than the ad’s nostalgia for the French empire. I imagine the leopard didn’t go to Africa–where most of the diamonds Cartier is sticking to animals come from– because that would be a bit gauche. Must keep within good taste, eh?
Cartier is attempting to infuse its products with some exotic mystique, and at that they succeed. Everything in the ad is ratcheted up to the highest level of pretentious schmalz, making “L’Odyssey de Cartier” the ruling class version of those “every kiss begins with Kay” commercials. Suffice to say, I’m not impressed. This is Orientalism at its nadir, dressed up in ugly diamond coating and put up on a pedestal to inspire the awe of the masses and open the wallets of the nouveau riche. I’m sure if the Victorians had had the Internet, they would have dropped their monocles at it.