Barbara Lippert’s Critique

Speaking of injectable, watered-down botulism (and who isn’t?), there’s been lots of buzz lately about Botox, the neurotoxin secretly used on crow’s feet and creases by the aging rich and famous. Now that the stuff has been FDA-approved for cosmetic use by a company called Allergan, analysts predict Botox revenue could quadruple in the next two years.

I’m all for it. I see it as a democratization of vanity: One nation, under Botox, with dewrinkling and lack of frown lines for all. For a few hundred bucks a shot (repeat as necessary), you can have your very own Greta Van Susteren moment—and then come clean about your little “procedure” to help the next person get empowered.

Already, some unrelated advertisers are having a field day with Botox jokes. The New York Sports Club, for example, is promoting itself with the line, “Botox might make your face look younger, but it can’t save your ass.” This was amended for some family newspapers to, “Botox won’t save your buttocks.” (Speaking of salvaging said buttocks, Botox also controls excessive palm and underarm sweating, which could be advertised as just the thing for your CEO facing a major congressional grilling.)

But for Allergan, this is serious business. The account was given to Grey, and the work, targeted to women, so far has been extremely pharmaceutically correct: low-key and humor free.

The print ad features the oversized head shot of an attractive, contemporary, blank-faced woman. Shiny, smooth and hypergroomed, she looks as though she could be talking to us about birth control or tooth whitening. Except that there’s something Mount Rushmore-esque about the stillness of her gaze and the way her face is placed on the page. Right between her eyes, where Cyclops would have his orb, float three words in purple type: “Your toughest wrinkle.” (No, not “Your ad here.”)

The headline says, “It took 40 years to get it. And 10 minutes to do something about it.” That’s a convincing line, but my favorite part of the ad is the smallish area with the unretouched clinical photos of one woman’s massive eyebrow frown before and after Botox. It does the job, if a bit clinically.

For TV, I was hoping for some quirky, personality-driven testimonials, or maybe some delightful, wry animation that would suggest the light and peace brought to the land by this new freedom from furrowing. Instead, the work has the irony-free, dated quality of a “Does she or doesn’t she?” early-1960s spot for Clairol.

I like that all the women are over 40—that’s a change—and I also like the graphic device allowing their ages to appear and then float away. There are quick cuts of women at their various activities—working, playing with children, cooking, etc. But some of the vignettes (woman with updo and earrings blowing out candles on birthday cake that gray-haired hubby holds up, for example) seem time-warped and gauzy, and many of the women smile demonically.

The tagline is, “Worried about losing your wow?” which plays right into all those antediluvian lines from the ’60s like, “Would he hold hands with a scrub brush?” It also erases any exultation in showing glowing, beautiful, middle-aged women.

The last cut is of a woman who is, yes, welding, mask and all. (She’s not a welder by day, dancer by night, like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance; rather she appears to be a sculptor in her studio.) She takes off her face covering and peers into the camera, and I grant that the drama of that act is haunting. (She’s definitely a supermodel of the ’70s—somehow I see her in an Estée Lauder ad, walking two Afghan hounds.) She looks into the camera, all haughty cheekbones and smoldering blue eyes, and she’s gorgeous. But there’s something odd here. It becomes clear that she’s overemoting with her eyes because she can’t move anything else on her face—the smoldering of paralysis.

Maybe, considering the stuff it’s promoting, there is some subliminal visual analogy going on, and perhaps this is the biggest compliment I can give the work: It’s stiff.