Hair! Hair!

It was my first insight into just how much money there actually is in the world of advertising.
The biggest agency in Canada had advised our major client that it was now necessary for us to go to New York to hire a production house and a world-class director, and cast Broadway-level actors for its new pool of TV spots. This we did, and flew the resulting mob of Very Expensive Talent to a Toronto location for days and days of shooting.

It was my first insight into just how much money there actually is in the world of advertising.

The biggest agency in Canada had advised our major client that it was now necessary for us to go to New York to hire a production house and a world-class director, and cast Broadway-level actors for its new pool of TV spots. This we did, and flew the resulting mob of Very Expensive Talent to a Toronto location for days and days of shooting.

The spots were now TV-ready, and all that remained was for the senior executives of the company to gather at the Hot Stove Lounge for a few drinks and a few steaks and a preview showing of our work for their final blessing and approval.

Unfortunately for one of our sixties, part way through the screening one of the execs started shouting to the effect that the lead performer, a woman who had recently played to raves in an off-Broadway stage production, looked like a hooker.

A couple of other execs apparently concurred, and just to be on the safe side, the commercial, which must have cost roughly the price of Casa Loma, was thrown into the garbage. In shock, we told the director, later to become a fairly major actor and filmmaker, that the spot had been dropped from the pool, and the insane reason why.

‘No kidding,’ he replied. ‘Before she became an actress, she used to be a hooker!’

Clearly, casting is terribly important. And when, as in fashion and beauty advertising, the model is the message, we in the biz may be advised to ponder long and hard the coded message our audience receives from our casting decisions.

I recently spent a Muskoka afternoon with a copy of Vogue, delving into the mysteries of how the world’s major fashion houses are currently selecting women whose de-coded looks flatter their idealized self-images.

Gone, by and large, are the gaunt, druggy waifs who caused such a stir just a short while ago. Flesh has returned to the faces. Eyes are large, dark and dramatically accented. Lips are positively huge. And hair is everywhere.

Ralph Lauren, traditional purveyor of that Mid-Atlantic Look, now chooses a dark beauty of the Penelope Cruz persuasion, with bosom-length tresses and a swoosh of dark hair down to her eyelids. This lady has not been in for a trim for quite some time.

Calvin Klein’s woman has a shock of blond hair falling across her face to her lips. St. John features a lady in an evening dress on an air mattress in a swimming pool with hair in her face, obscuring the vision in her right eye.

Likewise Victoria’s Secret. At DKNY, the tousled model is lying in a pile of leaves on top of a guy who has hair in his face. The Bally girl has hair in her face. So does the Sergio Valente girl. And the Swoosh girl. And the Miu Miu girl.

Dolce & Gabbana features a girl whose long hair flows from under a fur hat down her eyebrows as she rides a burro through the desert, alongside a guy with hair in his face. Ever slightly perverse, Versace shows a hirsute, rather matronly woman in a fur stole by her Moroccan pool, accompanied by a teenage guy who is topless, and possibly bottomless too. He peers grimly from under twin torrents of hair that fall to his shoulders.

The Chanel lady’s hair obscures her nose and the entire left side of her face.

Through a six-page spread, the BCBG MAX AZRIA girl’s face is partially to totally hidden by wild, white-blond hair.

Another DKNY girl with hair falling across her face is in bed in an undershirt with a naked guy with, yes, a mass of brown hair falling into his face.

In an editorial fashion feature on what real women from 20 to 70 look like, the only ladies without hair in their faces are Sigourney Weaver and Ahmet Ertegun’s aging wife. And to be fair, the lady in the ad who’s getting Acuvue Bifocals has plain, swept-back hair and looks like Beaver Cleaver’s mom.

The message? Your guess is as good as mine. I am only the messenger! But to me, it’s the cooler, sexier and more uninhibited you are, the less likely you are to need to work on a word processor.

Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He creates this column for fun, and to test the unproven theory that clients who find the latter amusing may also find the former to their liking. Barry can be reached at (416) 924-5533, or faxed at (416) 960-5255, at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners.