I keep forgetting to write about Cotton Incorporated’s Fabric of My Life ad campaign. But there seems to be a demand (specifically from my friends, the Kristens, who urged me to do a write-up at lunch today). So, let’s turn this draft into post, friends.
In a nutshell, three female singer-songwriters (Jazmine Sullivan, Miranda Lambert, and Zooey Deschanel, respectively representing R&B, country, and crossover indie pop) retool the jingle to let you, the (female, aged 18-34) consumer see just how easy, functional, versatile, and, above all, hip and stylish cotton is. The campaign, created by DDB, was launched in April, with 30-second spots running on television and the Internet.
To my knowledge, the print campaign will launch sometime this summer. This could suggest that the campaign isn’t doing so well. My hunch, though, is that magazines, now crippled by the recession, have been tightening their advertising budgets throughout the 2000s in the wake of several publication folds as more people have become reliant on computers, search engines, and social media to provide them with information.
The campaign has a micro-site, complete with extended versions of the television ads, behind-the-scenes-footage, interviews from the spokeswomen, customizable interactive style books, and Facebook applications. Personally, I thought the micro-site was pretty useless. I built a style book and didn’t need Cotton Incorporated to tell me that I like bright solids, flats and sneakers, minimal yet quirky jewelry, and an overall elegantly off-kilter look. I’ve been dressing myself for some time now. But the micro-site’s existence is interesting and a clear indication of how advertising is evolving and making itself appear more individualistic and available to John and Jane Websurfer.
I find the television ads interesting too, though I never actually saw them on the big glowing box in my living room (I saw them on the little glowing box in my office). While part of the same campaign, the three spots stand alone. They feature three different narrators with different musical styles, different “personal” styles (I assume these women have stylists), and different fan bases. Thus, they cultivate different images for themselves, which is evident in the narrative differences in both the songs and the ads. The two things they all do are 1) stare out a window as if inspired — perhaps by cotton? — and 2) play dress-up at the end of each ad, with the final shot being a closet door.
With Sullivan, we have an aspirational narrative — the opening line, ”they said it was only a dream, and dreaming was only for fools” is accompanied by images of Jazmine at a photo shoot. As the song goes on, Jazmine assures us that dreams “are alive just like me and you” and “can be real if you let them.” We see her being touched up by various (African American, one white) stylists, strolling through an upscale urban area (that I’m guessing is Philadelphia, where she calls home), writing in a local coffee shop, and talking to (African American, one white) students in a music school.
With Lambert, we have a “back to my roots” narrative — the opening line “took a shot, shooting for the stars, working overtime” is accompanied by the glammed-up singer being photographed at a red carpet event. The next line “you and I know it’s a struggle for the high road; I keep it simple though” coincides with images of Lambert on her tour bus, writing, playing guitar, and cuddling her dog. Upon her return home, we see an excessive display of folksiness — feeding the chickens, tending to a horse, and fly fishing (!).
Finally, with Deschanel, we have a “personal day” narrative — the opening line “woke up today, it was another lovely day” underscores Deschanel performing a concert, before running off-stage (rather sheepishly) and reappearing at home, working on a song at the piano, where she also keeps Post-It notes. From there, she wanders the (Los Angeles?) streets, walking a bike around, looking for banjos at an outdoor market, and hitting up the record store.
I’d like to point out some disparity in popularity. In my estimation, Sullivan and Lambert are similarly matched as representatives of their genre — not superstars like Beyoncé and Carrie Underwood, but young, established artists with a growing fan base. This can be crudely calculated by the number of hits their YouTube clips received (13,655 for Sullivan, 13,884 for Lambert). Deschanel’s clip, however, was viewed 144,032 times. I don’t think this has to do with her popularity as a musician–She and Him, her project with M. Ward backed by Merge Records, is what my partner terms “NPR-big”. Rather, I think Deschanel the spokeswoman gets to capitalize on two key aspects of her public persona that the other two artists can’t–she is also an established actress and fashion maven.
And it’s pretty easy to see how these narratives play into generic conventions, and how those conventions are raced and classed. Sullivan, a black woman and R&B singer, is aligned with the city, her neighborhood (but not her home, which we don’t see beyond her closet), and educational programs within her community to “set an example” and ”make a difference” (and probably shoulder some burden of representation). Lambert, who was raised in Lindale, Texas–a small, Christian, predominantly white farming community in East Texas– eschews the glitzy artifice of the entertainment industry for the “realness” of her roots. Deschanel, who was born into an entertainment family, lives in a quirky but assuredly upscale (and potentially gentrified) neighborhood that was bought by her career as an actor from a reputable family, which affords her considerable creative and leisure time.
So, while the spokeswomen may serve to be all things to all (female) people and get those people to buy from Cotton Incorporated, who those people are tellingly different from one another.