Creative: Critique – Rich In Fiber

Cotton Spots Neatly Rely On Rhythm And Muse
I noticed the updated incarnation of the Cotton Inc. campaign during the Emmy broadcast, where its tone–highly stylized, unceasing visual reverence for the fiber of our lives–fit in perfectly with the pitch of this year’s show: lots of worshipful filler about the unifying power and majesty of TV.
One such Emmy montage provided a horrifying peek behind the scenes at a firehouse. In a dark room filled with off-duty firefighters, each lays on his own comfy recliner at full horizontal tilt, staring at a giant glowing screen. The scene suggests the La-Z-Boy version of a Moonie mass wedding–all those chairs facing their techno-leader. Our heroes are mesmerized by Jerry Springer, I think.
What these various video packages amounted to were commercials for television, padded between the celebrity presenters and the actual commercials.
But as often happens when trying to praise a ubiquitous commodity, the tone took on a strangely annoying combination of pretension, smarm and real-people down-homeness. Now, pretension and real-people down-homeness are words that could apply to the previous and current cotton advertising. And I mean that in the best way. They’re essential when ennobling any commodity. (True, “Got Milk?” found a new way to do it, though I find the mustache campaign smarmy.)
In the land of cotton, however, I’m always a sucker for Richie Havens music and pictures of babies, but I take a pass on images of cowboys and Depression-era women hanging their wash. Introduced in late 1989, ” the touch, the feel, the fabric of our lives” execution, while not breakthrough, was a cocoon of a campaign and, like cotton itself, soft and swaddling.
What was nice visually was that the “feel” of cotton was suggested subtly–the cloth a painter leaned on or the T-shirt a little kid was wearing. So the work has been nice to have around, in all of its refined executions. Clearly, the “fabric of our lives” line has withstood the test of time–nine years in advertising is like a lifetime for dogs or politicians.
There are four spots in all, each featuring a different category: denim, underwear, sheets and corporate casual. Each category has different music incorporating the same cottony theme. (The underwear one rocks out, man.) We get the musical theme and then an announcer’s voice. It’s Debra Winger, who fits into the strong, deep and raspy contemporary woman mode. (Hey, Sigourney can’t do them all.) So the various musical themes (Latin for denim, swing for corporate casual, etc.) cover all of the images.
What caught my eye in the underwear ad was not the requisite beefcake but a surprising cut of Ivana: a portrait of the celebrity divorcƒe in bustier and long robe, surrounded by flower petals, looking reflective. She was one of two celeb cameos (the other was Evander Holyfield) in the spot.
Ivana looks great here, in full, erector-hair Bardot mode, showing her gams. And you have to hand it to her; she’s remade herself from the ground up. Once a mere punch line, The Donald’s 1980s-style robowife is now a true ’90s celebrity personality type: a survivor, an advice giver, an entrepreneur in her own right. In short, she embodies that contradiction of our times: a real-person celebrity!
So she’s perfect here as high queen of commodity worship. Plus, the silence of the Trump is a glorious thing–especially when the zsounds zsmack of Zsa Zsa.
I also like the unexpected use of Bazaar priestess Liz Tilberis in the corporate casual commercial. It’s less reverent and so high-spirited and beautifully designed in a modern, 1960s architectural way that it seems like a Gap ad. Tilberis looks wonderful in her cozy turtleneck and skirt, gently smiling and laughing in front of a gray metal desk.
There is an added twist to this campaign. Previously, Cotton’s in-house religion resembled down-home, rhythm and blues veering toward Holy Roller; now it’s got a psychological, self-actualized edge. A philosophical phrase punctuates the images in each spot.
For instance, in the Ivana-Evander spot, my favorite, it suggests: “Never be intimidated. Just imagine the other guy in his underwear.” And it actually shows various actors cavorting in every variation of undergarment–from boxers to long johns to elaborate layers. (I wanted to go on a rant about Clinton’s brief-or-boxer inclinations here, but my natural restraint prevailed.)
I like the deep saturated blue hues in the denim spot, especially when the guy in the muscle shirt and jeans is swimming. The campaign is great looking, shot by director Jeff Preiss of Epoch (sounds like Deepak) Films.
My least favorite spot is “Sheets.” Although it boasts at least one cut of a cute baby toddling around in a diaper, it features too many shots of a pretentious Zen guy–sorry pretentious Zen guy! And to top it off, it pays a lot of attention to those strange bedfellows Mary Matalin and James Carville. I like them as pundits, each extreme in his and her own way. But it’s creepy and smarmy to see them as consumer lovebirds.
Believe me, I had no interest in seeing their Viking range on the grass in that American Express ad, and I really don’t want to see them in action between the sheets, either. Haven’t we learned the danger of exposing the private lives of public figures? At least he’s sleeping. Let’s just leave it at that.