“Life is a Journey” (of Art and Commerce)

So I was in at the local arthouse movie theater last week and was struck by one of the pre-show ads that presaged the ten minutes of indie film trailers. I really liked the ad, and felt almost moved by it at times… until the last few seconds, when it was revealed what the “ad” was actually for. Apparently the rest of the audience was caught off guard as well, because they all erupted in laughter upon the brand reveal. Here, you can see the ad for yourself:

When I was first watching it, I kept thinking: is this a trailer for some new Babel-esque film that takes place in multiple countries? Or maybe it’s just a small little short film of some kind? I never expected that it would be a Louis Vuitton ad… but perhaps I should have.

It got me thinking: should I respect Louis Vuitton for making such a lovely, aesthetically astute advertisement? Or do I loathe him for coopting “art” and exploiting my indie-film sensibilities? (just as he did in The Darjeeling Limited last fall, which prominently featured an array of Marc Jacobs-designed Louis Vuitton luggage pieces). I guess I can’t fault Louis Vuitton too much, because the ad (LV’s first television ad) is simply doing what advertising has always done: associating a product with a “life experience” or emotion and suggesting that one’s existential satisfaction is tied to overpriced consumer goods.

By using a theme that any self-respecting yuppie has a major weakness for (travel), and highlighting an assortment of poetic little questions (“Does the person create the journey? Or does the journey create the person?”) and proverb-sounding quips (“A journey brings us face to face… with ourselves”), the ad mimics an array of familiar cultural images, sounds, and feelings that all should appeal to the style-conscious upper classes (or wannabes).

The soft images of blue-tinted, misty explorations (that appear to be vaguely SE Asian) evoke an eco-friendly exoticism of the “I vacation in Thailand!” variety. Other images capture a sort of Lost in Translation aesthetic. Indeed, several shots in the ad (people looking out of highrise windows at a city skyline, a woman peering longingly out of a taxi window) are direct quotations of Sofia Coppola’s beautiful travelogue. What to make of this?

Perhaps the biggest question we should ask is this: are the people for whom “life is a journey” really going to spend thousands of dollars on LV handbags? If those who are existentially attracted to traveling (which is what the ad is appealing to: not the “jet-set” type of travel, but the “spiritual journey” type) have a few extra thousand to spend on consumer goods, will they spend it on designer luggage? Probably the money would go to various travel indulgences (airfare, nice hotel, ethnic souvenirs, etc) or something otherwise “experiential” rather than material/utilitarian. But then again, rich people who travel do need luggage… so why not Louis Vuitton?

2 responses to ““Life is a Journey” (of Art and Commerce)

  1. shakespeherian

    While this may be an incredibly small demographic, I’d say that people like Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola (for example) are both existentially attracted to travel and capable of purchasing Louis Vuitton suitcases— some very indie-cred people have tons of cash on hand.

  2. To be honest, I think the answer to all your questions is no. The people who travel for the experience and ‘journey’, rather than just to ‘see stuff’, invariably have little money, and what they do have gets spent on the ‘experiences’ – train journeys, meals, boat trips, mud huts, bribes, etc.

    I’m working in Zanzibar at the moment, and there’s a distinct divide between those with the money and those without, both spatially and socially. There’s a couple of hotels where I imagine some LV products could be found, but they’re on the edge of everything, and most of it’s occupants barely leave the cocktail veranda except to step straight into a taxi for specific guided tours and to peer at locals through the glass of a scheduled itinerary.

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