But it's not that the idea of sexual obsession is outdated really; it's just that lately, any number of people on Long Island have given it a bad name. (Can Autobody, the scent by Fisher, be far behind?)
And as Madonna learned in her astutely named book, there are problems with the visual presentation of sex these days. First, as a culture that can tune into the rantings of pierced transsexual hustlers and old time of day on TV talks shows, we have become essentially unshockable; second, if you're going to show sex in the straight Buttafuoco sense, there's the need for latex to contend with.
So what's a politically correct Obsession marketer to do, short of putting the brand name in recovery?
Well, the previous campaign used director David Lynch, oddly enough, to deliver the non-erotic, Cliff notes version of great moments of fiction (with actors from Twin Peaks). It sounds great, but on film it seemed forced and hollow.
This new Kate Moss approach gets attention with natural, low-key '90s trappings. Moss, of course, was in the waif vanguard. She's been a Calvin Klein poster child for more than one year now.
Fashion always seems to set up ridiculous extremes among women. For the past few months, we've had the choice between the Jayne Mansfield-Valkyre type with platinum hair and heavy machinery (Anna Nicole Smith) or the reed thin, post-consumptive, all-natural grunge/urchins.
Much has been written about waifs as a new symbol of the backlash - that they suggest passivity, child sexuality, and even death. But Kate Moss does have a seductive face that really attracts the camera. She has a wan, distant look that's part Emily Dickinson in the 1830s, part Mick Jagger in the 1960s. (Which is, of course, only a small step away from part Tweety Bird, part Don Knotts.)
The idea here was to keep the campaign real: to send Kate and her honest-to-goodness boyfriend, the 21-year-old photographer Mario Sorrenti, to a distant island to do their own commercials. Mario was taught to use a low-tech Bolex, and the two were packed off to Jost Van Dyke with a crew from Epoch Films.
And the result is that we're talkin' bout love, not obsession. Mario does have an eye, and the shots are genuinely tender. It's not stagey, it's not lit, and Kate's not all madeup and styled. A lot of it is photographed in and under the water, and our waif Kate has been turned into a sea urchin, shot lovingly from the bikini top up. In some shots, he closes in on her eye; he also frames and flattens her lips.
Some of the more death-like portraits of Kate suggest the photographer Sally Mann, who photographs her children in sexual, ambiguous ways. Other shots (the way Moss' face is framed against a stark white wall, for instance) suggest Richard Avedon, the dean of Obsession ads. He and Doon Arbus wrote and produced the original, now classic, TV spots that included the line 'between love and madness lies Obsession' - a line Kate actually delivers again.
There's a lot of white, blank screen, which is appealing, and a natural soundtrack (waves and heart-beats), which is nice. If there is any problem, it's with their voices: Kate has a reedy little one, and Mario (in the spots for Obsession for men) is allowed too much heavy breathing to say too little. ('I love her . . . I love you Kate . . . love is a word you can't explain . . . ')
But in perfect '90 style, it fits somewhere between the manic archness of the original TV campaign and the unnatural stiffness of the second one. Ah, the young and monogamous sell of it.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)