By Juli Weiner, Vanity Fair
From left: Marc Jacobs, Justin Timberlake, and Alicia Keys
Observant onlookers of American corporate culture (which is everyone, because no one has a choice) will have, by now, noticed a trend amongst deep-pocketed brands straining for sophistication and relevance. The gambit: appoint an indisputably hip cultural figure as the "creative director" of a company or product. Marc Jacobs, downtown atelier nonpareil, was recently tapped as the creative director of Diet Coke, a position that involved designing "'whimsical, feminine' packaging for the soft drink giant as it celebrates its 30th anniversary in Europe," Women's Wear Daily reports. Previous Diet Coke creative directors include Diane von Furstenberg (2012), Karl Lagerfeld (2011), Jean Paul Gaultier (2010), and innumerable anonymous marketing executives in the years before that.
Brands have had spokespeople, ambassadors, and "faces" since the invention of recorded sound first facilitated proliteriat-celebrity communication. "Creative director" is just the latest iteration in a rich, lucrative history of pitchmen putting on airs. Bud Light, the Squirt to Stella Artois's Sprite, just tapped Justin Timberlake as the creative director for its new Platinum variety. In a statement, Timberlake explained: "Bud Light Platinum brings a refined, discerning aesthetic to beer that plays well with what I'm doing. I'm looking forward to not only being a part of the creative process, but in bringing other talented musicians to the forefront as well." But so far, "being a part of the creative process" has involved starring in a minute-long advertisement and unironically using the descriptors "refined" and "discerning aesthetic" in the context of Bud Light.
And BlackBerry--"the lukewarm water left overnight on the kitchen table," in beverage terms--has conscripted Alicia Keys to "lead an arrange of new business initiatives that will drive engagement with BlackBerry and the perception of the brand," according to Reuters. How is BlackBerry perceived? Is BlackBerry perceived? And if so, is that not a significant step forward for BlackBerry? "I have been using the BlackBerry 10 for a few weeks now, and I'm truly inspired by its innovation," Keys ("Keys") said ("said") in a statement. "It has entirely revolutionized the experience. I know the potential this platform has to help creative people be more productive, and help productive people be more creative. This is such an incredible age to be living in, with such profound advances in communications and technology. As Global Creative Director, my goal is to inspire creativity with this platform, and I'm so excited to jump right in."
Etymologically, "creative director" comes from the Latinate dominus ex picunia (literally, "leadership out of money") and dates back to 44 B.C., when an otherwise unremarkable layabout nephew of Julius Caesar was given fifty virgins in exchange for agreeing to wear leather sandals to the public execution of a disobedient slave. He documented the outing with the very same BlackBerry Alicia Keys uses today.
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