This article has been previously published within “A tres bandas” of ANUNCIOS advertising magazine (N° 1522, 11/01/2016). You can download the original PDF in Spanish languages here.
“A tres bandas” is a section of the magazine in which three professionals share their thoughts on a campaign they haven’t worked on. In this case “Shiseido: High School Girl?”
Reality cannot compete with imagination
Reality is when someone sees powder. Imagination is when someone sees beauty. How many times did beauty companies sell us imagination and not just a cream in a tube or make-up powder in a tin? Advertising, communication and marketing do not just live thanks to written or visual messages, but especially because of imagination they create in our heads. We use hidden desires as a lever to tell the story of our brand, our world or whatever we want our products to be. Imagination is something that only can be provoked in every person and that every one of us needs to “develop” with their own means and way.
In the case of Shiseido’s video and campaign High School Girl? I imagined, thought and understood the following, divided into three bits:
This campaign is not only a visually intriguing exercise, but it’s also at an exceptional level of technical video production. It’s a flawless production that combined with some mystery has the perfect mix of making it into a catalyser of imagination. This kind of imagination activates new ideas, topics or experiences. But it’s not just the production and the mystery but that these two elements work seamlessly together in a specific moment in time, when both are able to provoke feelings within a cultural context and thus ensure success through relevancy.
While doing some research on socio-cultural tendencies, we can find a branch in Japanese pop-culture called “bishōnen” (literal “beautiful youth/boy”). Actually, it’s a type of aesthetics that can be found in different zones of Asia where the beauty (and sexual appeal) of a young man transcends the limits of his own gender or sexual orientation. And what better place to imagine our campaign’s protagonists than in a school’s class room? The place and context where teenagers come together, talk, live, manifest their desires and ideas and define themselves in a specific moment in their lives. Between each other and in front of the society.
Seeing this from our western perspective, culture and societal context the most fascinating and visually attractive element of the advertisement is the trick of transforming boys into girls and vice versa. Keeping in mind that the bishōnen the way they understand them in Asia doesn’t exist in our society.
And just when the game of not knowing of who we are really seeing in the class room, girls or boys, is fully expanded, the biggest doubt of all of this campaign come into my mind. Since 2007, when Dove launched their famous campaign Real Beauty showing how a woman was photoshopped to become the face of a billboard, we’ve started criticising the beauty industry of selling us false, artificial and antinatural beauty in their ads.
What’s happening in the case of Shiseido? In reality, and when watching the making-of video of the ad shooting, the use of Photoshop is inexistent but actually make-up artists use real pencils, brushes, sprays, layers of colors are photoshopping in real-life. We can follow that step-by-step in the time-lapse. Are we going back to special effects? Artificial beauty? But this time we’re doing it the analog way?
Concluding, the commercial of Shiseido reminds me of the Japanese proverb
見ぬが花 (Minu ga hana)
Not seeing is a flower.
But it’s real meaning is
Reality cannot compete with imagination.
Our brains love to be challenged, we continuously look for patterns in our environment to able to relate the unknown with the known. And we are able to imagine the impossible.
For me, campaigns like High School Girl?, that provoke and work imagination in such a special and unexpected way, needs to be treated like art.
Watch the Making-of below.