While lounging around and reading Nylon magazine the other day, I came across a Diesel jeans ad of a half naked, gorgeous woman, drenched in sweat and rain, straddling a half naked man.
Surprisingly, that is not what I’m about to address.
Looking at the ad, I was puzzled … not by its sexual nature, as ads for jeans where the jeans (or any other article of clothing, really) are not in the ad at all are often the main focus these days, but by the tagline of the ad: Be Stupid.
I did a little bit of research, and Diesel’s Be Stupid campaign is apparently not a new initiative, as it has been around since the winter fashion season. There are multiple versions of the advertisement, including two ads that were banned from the UK, in which one woman is flashing a security camera and the other is taking a picture of what lies inside her bathing suit bottoms (both captioned “Smart may have the brains, but stupid has the balls”). Other ads feature the phrases: Smart listens to the head. Stupid listens to the heart! Stupid is trial and error. Mostly error! Smart critiques. Stupid cheats! Smart has plans. Stupid has stories! and my personal favorite: Smart says no. Stupid says yes!
Companies generally benefit from non-threatening controversy such as ad campaigns. The more press something gets, the more the name gets out there, the more people talk about it, and then one day everyone forgets why they know the brand and buy the product because it’s just what’s done. The powerhouses at Diesel probably know this — but did they intend to put out ads that were, well, in my opinion, really stupid?
The company’s website asks their customers to “Take risks!” And I think it’s great …
… for a well known brand to encourage their consumers to be brave; to put themselves out there. To have “balls” or whatever. To listen to your heart. Unfortunately, whatever number of positive messages are present in the ads are pretty much completely lost due to the fact that every single one makes a comparison between stupid and smart.
The slogan I have the most problems with is “Smart says no. Stupid says yes.” Though it may not have been intended this way, encouraging people to “be stupid” and “say yes” brings up ideas of non-consentual behavior to me (probably because I’m a sex educator, but still, even when taking away sexual undertones it’s quite unsettling). Furthermore, I’m totally cool with “thinking with your heart,” but I don’t think that it is stupid to do so. And, hey, if someone wants to flash a security camera or take a picture of their genitals, more power to them … but really, Diesel? “Smart has brains, but stupid has the balls?” Come on. “Ballsy” girls take pictures of their vaginas! “Smart” girls with “brains” don’t! Choose to be ballsy, because smart is boring!
Isn’t there something really kind of off in this message?
Ultimately, the whole campaign is contradictory. “Stupid is mostly error” is saying don’t be stupid isn’t it? And the corner of the ad says “Be Stupid: Diesel,” so it would seem that they are suggesting that one must be stupid to wear their jeans. Or at least, it appears that way, coming from someone who considers themselves smart, but since smart isn’t “in,” who knows where I stand. Damn you, Diesel, for making me question the validity of my intellect. I shall go buy copious amounts of your clothing line now.
But back to my original question … did Diesel’s marketing professionals intentionally create a controversial campaign? Or, did they really think they could to convince us all to act stupid enough to be worthy of their pants?
I’m going with the former.