Free People Fiasco: Does Branding Trump Credibility?

It’s been said that you can tell a lot about a girl by the contents of her Pinterest boards.

Take me, for example – look on my profile and the vast majority of pins are fashion-related. Look more closely, and you’ll see that many of them come from Free People, a company that sells “Bohemian” clothing for women.

Free People works hard to portray its ethereal image with fashion trends so “out there” that they can’t even be “trendy.” And the price tags don’t pretend to hide the lofty brand label. I follow Free People because at times I like to imagine myself as one of the wistful models, riding bareback through wildflowers or lying sullenly on the back stoop of my urban apartment, all while wearing the cream of the crop in Bohemian fashion. I guess Free People is doing things right, then.

This week, however, some would beg to differ. Free People recently added dancewear to its “FP Movement” line. The somewhat unconventional but still breathable-looking wear was introduced both on their website and blog by a single model demonstrating the clothing in various dance poses (I apologize for the ambiguity – dance knowledge is not in my brain bank).

The ads look fine to me; I don’t see anything wrong with them. But many who are actually knowledgeable, skilled, and trained in the field of dance are very upset by the way Free People chose to model the new line, ranting about horrible technique and form. Not only that, but the angry dancers report that having the model in pointe shoes without proper training can be very dangerous.

Much of social media is abuzz about this ad. This video on YouTube has 10 times more dislikes than likes. Other YouTubers have gone so far as to make parodies of the ad that have reached tens of thousands of views. Comments on all forms of social media convey feelings that the model should have been chosen to portray the beauty of dance rather than the beauty of Free People’s new line or even the beauty of the model herself.

Perhaps Free People could have sought out a professional dancer to model its new line, which would give it the “legit” that it needs now. Perhaps the “look” Free People holds so dear is taking precedence over the company’s credibility. Or, perhaps the trained dancers are taking this too seriously. We’ll have to wait and see how Free People responds to this uproar, or if the company responds at all.

Tell us what YOU think! Comment below or tweet us @brunetgarcia.

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Mad Men 7.3

"You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension of booze and brylcreem."

There is a fifth workplace, beyond that which is known to most men. It is a dimension as vast as space and as shallow as a wading pool. It is in the middle ground between inspiration and desperation, between branding and bullshit, and it lies between the pit of man’s materialism and the summit of social impact. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Advertising Zone.

Submitted for your approval: an expectant father and advertising copywriter with a monstrous propensity towards going off on thematic tangents – in this case, taking a lengthy discourse detour based off of a seemingly innocuous reference on “Field Trip,” the third episode of Mad Men’s bifurcated final season. Early in the episode, Megan Draper’s manager calls Don Draper to tell him Megan’s been going off the rails as she tries to fulfill her Hollywood dreams. To make his point, the agent tells Don about Megan interrupting a director’s lunch with Rod Serling just to ask the director to let her re-read a part. That Rod Serling mention was very apt given the inspiration Mad Men has always drawn from Serling’s seminal 1960s sci-fi anthology series The Twilight Zone.

The pilot episode of Mad Men made a point to let us know that The Twilight Zone had just premiered. Also former Sterling Cooper copywriter Paul Kinsey often quoted lines from the show. So, it should come as no surprise that Mad Men creator Matt Weiner has often talked about the influence The Twilight Zone had in inspiring his own program. The Twilight Zone brilliantly used science fiction and fantasy as a vehicle for social commentary, in much the same way that the Sterling Cooper (& Partners) workplace represents a kind of professional Petri dish for the societal mutations of the 1960s.

Watch the show, not the crappy movie version.

I’m not the only one who has noted the historical and cultural connections between the two shows. In 2010, writer Marc Scott Zicree, creator of “The Twilight Zone Companion” as well as writer for Star Trek: The Next Generation, wrote a spec script for Mad Men in which Don Draper meets Rod Serling. Titled “Walking Distance,” after a classic Twilight Zone episode, the story has Draper meet up with Serling after learning CBS has canceled  The Twilight Zone. As Draper tries to convince Serling to become an advertising pitch man, the two men learn they have more in common than they realize. You can read Zicree’s script here. The chances of this spec episode ever getting made are slim to none, but it is well-written and and a fascinating read for fans of both show. If you’ve never seen The Twilight Zone, CBS has an online channel where you can watch full episodes. Check them out by clicking on this link.

Don meets Rod: the spec script that would have made a great episode.

Rod Serling references aside, “Field Trip” had a Twilight Zone vibe in the way that time felt unhinged; with characters from the show’s past suddenly appearing (Francine, Betty’s friend who we haven’t seen in a few seasons), seminal Mad Men moments being revisited (Ken Cosgrove’s mention of Don Draper’s classic carousel pitch from Season 1), and characters clearly not fitting in with the present (Betty’s early 60s hair, makeup, and wardrobe amid the mud and slop of a 1969 upstate New York farm). “Field Trip” deals with three actual field trips that don’t go quite as planned: Don’s surprise flight out West to try and play the role of protective father figure to Megan, Don’s ex-wife Betty taking their son on a field trip to the farm that turns as sour as spoiled barnyard milk, and Don’s uncomfortable return to the agency he founded.

That development was probably the most significant plot turn of the season, as it was rife with subtext and character intrigue. Don goes to Roger, who agrees to Don’s request to get back to work at the agency, except Roger doesn’t bother telling any of the other partners about the plans. This leads to a surreal sequence in which we cut from shots of Don in his apartment contemplating his return, to his perspective walking through an agency that is familiar yet alien; where familiar faces stare through Don as if he were the fraudulent visage of someone who existed in another place, another time.

For a character whose life is built on a series of lies, it is a humbling moment for Don. The emperor has no clothes, yet he is willing to bravely face his former subjects naked. With the exception of Lou (the worst) and Jim, the men at the agency are happy to see Don. The women, not so much. Joan, one of Don’s closest allies over the years, greets him with a venomous smile and then proceeds to tattle-tale news of his return to Bert Cooper. Peggy’s rancor towards Don was troubling, and much like her flower fit last week, seemed out of character. I’m not quite sure where this well of bitterness is coming from, and I’m not sure why she is so angry with Don in particular. I really hope the show does a better job of explaining this in the coming weeks.

No one, and I mean no one, can tell a joke like Lou Avery.

As Don sweats it out like a kid waiting to get called into the principal’s office, Roger Sterling goes to bat for him in a partners’ meeting that will decide Don’s fate. It is a gratifying moment, and a tender one as well, as Roger throws Don a life preserver, and in the process, tacitly acknowledges that both he and “genius” Don need to evolve in order to be taken seriously in the coming decade. Roger is learning the delicate art of compromise, while Don is learning that authenticity doesn’t come easily. Eventually Don agrees to a list of odious stipulations from the partners in order to return to work. Even in his humbled state, it seems strange for Don to acquiesce to such demands. My guess is he has a plan in place to reconquer his kingdom, and we’ll start to see it play out in the coming weeks.

"Sorry Don. This ain't no party...This ain't no disco...This ain't no foolin' around."

There were a few aspects of ad agency life in”Field Trip” that need to be addressed. First off, someone really needs to audit the communication and decision-making process at SC&P! Seriously, every one of the partners had a different understanding about Don’s “status” at the agency. I just can’t see an agency with SC&P’s clients and billings being this out of sorts in regard to the status of a founding partner. On the flip side, I think this episode did a nice job of showing the internecine conflict that can take place at a workplace with as many competing egos as an ad agency. Harry Crane, representing media, doesn’t feel like he or his department are appreciated. Meanwhile, Peggy’s campaign for Chevalier Noir is rained on by Lou (the worst) demanding to know why Stan has drawn art cards for the campaign. Peggy is also jealous that Ginzo got a CLIO nomination while she didn’t. *Full disclosure: this type of petty behavior never occurs at Brunet-García.*

Speaking of that scene between Ginzo and Peggy, it reveals a dirty truth about advertising. Lou explains to Peggy that her Rosemary’s Baby ad was pulled from CLIO contention because of all the awards Ted Chaough has already won for the client. When Peggy incredulously asks if the client is upset about winning, Lou responds that clients hate awards and that’s why Ogilvy never submits.  This is true for some clients. They see ADDYs, CLIOs, and other awards as exercises in self-indulgence that take the focus off of them and cast all the shine on the agency. They are not crazy about award-winning campaigns being seen strictly as the “creation” of an agency and not something that is organic to their brand. In their minds, a good agency should follow the lead of the mob, executing killer work without attracting too much attention. At Brunet-García, we believe creative awards are not just an acknowledgment of our work, but also an acknowledgment of a great partnership between agency and client. We may never go the old Ogilvy route, but we will always make sure that when we accept an award, we acknowledge the client who is an inspiration and partner in all our achievements.

Ok, so I can’t wrap up this review of “Field Trip” without discussing the return of Betty Francis. It’s a return that can be summed up thusly: Betty is still awful and her son Bobby will likely always have Freudian issues with gumdrops.

Betty doing what Betty does: Crushing the souls of her children.

 

 

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Advertising Beauty In the Eye of the (FTC) Beholder

In 2011, Lancôme took down its London billboard ads featuring Photoshopped images of famous women – Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington – at the urging of a British Parliament member who said the ads were “not representative of the results the products could achieve.”

That same year, the American Medical Association  concluded that “photoshopped” ads which portray unrealistic human bodies have such a detrimental effect on body image and self esteem, particularly among teenage girls, that it became the organization’s official opinion to strongly discourage the production of these ads. Those actions, and subsequent studies, have touched off a debate that could soon culminate with  legislation that opens the door to new regulation of the advertising industry.

 

Last month Florida Congresswoman  Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, along with two other co-sponsors, introduced a bill that would ask the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which already regulates false advertising as a means of consumer protection, to develop a regulatory framework for ads that materially change the faces and bodies of the people in them. The bill doesn’t propose actual regulation — it just asks for some preliminary research and recommendations, deliverable within the next 18 months. But the legislation would give the FTC the power to put it’s recommendations into practice. So, if a diet or beauty product puts a model in their advertisement, but then photoshops the hell out of  the image to the point where the model’s appearance is “materially” altered, the FTC could eventually have the power to step-in and regulate the ad based on it being deceptive.

The intent of the bill may be noble, but what about 1st Amendment rights?  Obviously, artistic expression is a protected form of free speech. The bill would not effect magazine covers or editorial content – only advertisements meant to sell products. The FTC already exercises that power over advertisements as a means of consumer protection, it’s just usually an authority used on literal words or statements. The bill’s sponsors are making the argument that there is enough statistical evidence linking computer-altered images with negative physical and psychological behaviors to warrant agency oversight. Indeed, when 69% of elementary school girls say magazine images influence their concept of ideal body shape, there is cause for concern.

I would argue that allowing the FTC to make regulatory calls on imagery in advertising is not as clear-cut as making a call on an advertising claim that is explicitly laid out in text. There is a certain amount of artistry in much of the Photoshopping we see in beauty ads that is not meant to be taken as a literal product claim. Many of these ads are idealized, and aspirational, works of creativity. It is not the “distorted” model who is being sold or promised, but the far more nebulous idea of “beauty.” Can you really regulate an ideal?  The notion of a government regulatory agency policing them is somewhat disconcerting.

You can follow the conversation, and debate, over the Truth in Advertising Act 2014 through the #TruthInAds hashtag. As an advertising agency that works to make a positive social impact, we are glad #TruthinAds has sparked more awareness of the need to address the unrealistic body image often promulgated by advertisers. But in a free society, we do have some concerns about regulatory agencies making calls on what qualifies as “false advertising” and acceptable levels of Photoshopping.

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Mad Men 7.2

After Don and Sally bonded and skipped out on their lunch bill, they went on a three state father-daughter killing spree.

There is a point in every child’s life when your father looks you in the eye and says “Everything is just fine,” and you know it is not true; that in fact, everything is not fine, nor was there ever a time when everything was “just fine.” It is the nature of fathers to spin this false reassurance to their children, from Alpha to Omega. But a child’s recognition of this deception does not make a man a liar in the eyes of his offspring; it makes him a dad. It shines a light through the opaqueness of patriarchy, making a father transparent and human, in a way that is essential for a child’s own emotional growth.

Over the course of seven seasons of Mad Men, we’ve watched Sally Draper struggle in the shadow of her father’s deceptions, and we’ve wondered, will those deceptions destroy her, or will they make her stronger? In the show’s latest episode, “A Day’s Work,” I think we may have found our answer. In one of my favorite scenes of the entire series, Sally grows up before our eyes, not only sharing a meal with dad, but sharing a recognition that it is ok to let your guard down — to acknowledge that thing’s aren’t “just fine.” During Don and Sally’s heart-to-heart over a patty melt, accusations become confessions. Don and Sally come clean with each other, and in the process, their relationship is strengthened at a time when Don needs all the strength he can muster. And as Sally tells her father “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you,” she opens up the path for a happy ending to the show — one where Don realizes that being honest with himself and those he loves may be preferable to orchestrating campaign after campaign to push the brand that is Don Draper.

While the development of Don and Sally’s relationship was earned and beautifully rendered, the rest of “A Day’s Work” felt like a bit of a slog — from Burt Cooper’s racism, to Peggy’s self-centeredness, to Lou Avery’s dickishness, it was a Valentine’s Day to forget at the agency. If Mad Men’s writers were trying to make a point about the cynical and contrived nature of the “Hallmark Holiday,” it was fitting that this episode featured what felt like one of Mad Men’s most contrived story lines. Peggy losing her shit over her secretary’s Valentine’s Day roses rang false on a show where the character beats are usually so spot-on. Throughout Mad Men, Peggy has been a character who has absorbed and dealt with everything that has been thrown at her. It seems like an odd calculation by Mad Men’s showrunners to have her come this unhinged at this juncture of the plot. In the end, the whole storyline felt forced and silly.

Roses are red, violets are blue, this version of Peggy isn't ringing so true.

There were other plot developments worth noting in “A Day’s Work,” particularly the focus on Dawn playing spy for Don, and her sudden upward mobility. It was nice to see a minority character get some love on a show that is so WASPy. Speaking of WASPs, it turns out Pete’s California dreamin’ was fleeting. For a man who loves being the center of attention, the move to the West Coast has left him feeling even more unappreciated. There is also the simmering conflict between Roger and Cutler. It will be interesting to see where that leads. But in the end, this episode was all about love. As Don gets courted by emissaries from two agencies during an afternoon meal, he tells them he is “just looking for love,” not taking business lunches. His openness and honesty with his daughter may finally allow him to stop looking for that love in boardrooms and brunettes, and realize it has been there inside him, and in front of him, all along.

Don realizes that while Sally may accept him for all his failings, she will never forgive him for his public flatulence.

 

 

 

 

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The Whimsical vs.The Weird

The global theme of tomorrow’s Earth Day 2014 is “Green Cities.” We have our own initiative to make in-town neighborhoods in Jacksonville’s urban core more sustainable and beautiful, the Block x Block campaign. The critters in our National ADDY Award winning illustration series for Block x Block are cute, cuddly, and hard at work showing us how litter just isn’t natural.

 

 

 

 

Critters also feature prominently in an anti-litter 1991 public service announcement filmmaker David Lynch created for New York City’s “Clean Up” campaign. But that’s where the similarities between our creative approach and the Eraserhead director’s end. Lynch coaxes some excellent method acting performances from his horde of street rats as they perform against an urban noir meets urban horror backdrop. It is always exciting and inspiring when a big-name, visionary director can channel their unique creative approach towards a good cause. It is also great to see that two tonally different approaches can be just as environmentally and socially impactful in service of the same cause.

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