Half-Drag-with-CitationLast week, a fellow strategist came up to me, looking flabbergasted, and told me to watch the new Chanel campaign featuring Brad Pitt. Reaction to the campaign was obviously pretty polarized; some were in awe of his sensuality (after all, it’s Brad Pitt) but many felt bamboozled by what Entertainment Weekly called a “nonsensical rambling.” As could be expected, television programs such as Conan and Saturday Night Live were quick to air parodies of the ad.

Upon watching the controversial TV spot, the first thing that struck me was Chanel’s use of a man to sell fragrance to women. After all, Brad is following in the footsteps of illustrious beauties including Nicole Kidman, Keira Knightley, Catherine Deneuve and Lauren Hutton. Whilst new in America, in other parts of the world, beauty communication has long been becoming more gender neutral.

On the streets of Korea’s shopping district Myeongdong, it is not surprising to see male idols as the face of local female cosmetics brands. And that’s because in a country with a huge entertainment industry, young women aspire to be with their favorite male idols, who often grace the covers of high-end beauty magazines like Vogue. If the flood of BB creams into the US market is anything to go by, Korea is readily exporting beauty trends to the US.

In America and Europe, there are far fewer cases where men are used to promote beauty products to women. But what makes the Chanel ad unique isn’t so much about aspiration as it is about proving to women that men also recognize the superiority of the product and the superiority of the women who choose it.

So is Chanel a trailblazer? Should we stop laughing and laud them for their innovative gender-neutral approach to communication?

Maybe…but they did get one important thing wrong. Our Truth about Beauty study taught us that the most important dimension for a beauty brand spokesperson is authenticity. More than 50% of women globally were bothered by airbrushed photos, and 94% agree that celebrities have just as many imperfections as the rest of us. Consumers don’t just want beautiful faces; they want spokespeople with genuine stories to tell. If Chanel wants to convince consumers to buy their fragrance, it is vital that they show an authentic connection between Brad Pitt and the product. We need to believe that Brad believes in the brand as much as the brand believes in him.