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Actor Johnny Depp has reportedly signed a seven-figure deal with international fashion company Dior just months after a high-profile defamation case heard abuse allegations from his ex-wife — raising an important question about redemption in the age of ambassador and influencer marketing.
This week, Depp was reinstated as the face of Dior Beauty fragrance Sauvage on Instagram reportedly after senior Dior figures and fashion photographer Greg Williams attended one of Depp and Jeff Beck’s rock concerts in Paris.
The actor first signed with Dior back in 2015, but the campaign was put on hold following Amber Heard’s allegations about emotional and physical abuse at the hands of Depp — allegations that were found to be “substantially true” by a UK court.
But following Depp’s win this year in a US-based defamation case, the actor has been granted a second chance in Tinseltown, first by Dior, and now by a French film company which released depp-jeanne-du-barry-first-look-king-louis-xv/”>first images of his new role in a biopic today.
It comes as more than a dozen celebrities have quietly removed their support from an Instagram statement Depp posted in the wake of his success in court, after unsealed documents rehashed his history of alleged misconduct with testimony from ex-agent Tracey Jacobs and ex-girlfriend Ellen Barkin.
By reinstating Depp as the face of the brand’s fragrance, is Dior alienating a large chunk of its consumer base who may be disturbed by Depp’s dark past, or is working with Depp as an ambassador a brand masterstroke in guaranteeing headlines while speaking to consumers who believe Depp was innocent of all allegations?
Two brand experts weigh in.
‘A calculated move’
Brand expert Sally Branson, who specialises in crisis and special situations, says the global fashion powerhouse is “certainly taking sides” on the high-profile court battle between Depp and Heard.
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“It feels like Dior is not seeking to speak to an audience of empowered women. Instead, it feels like a call to arms for a certain group of disaffected customers,” Branson said.
“Dior is playing the cologne’s traditional audience: the men of the early 1990s who doused themselves in the most popular men’s fragrance on the market at the end of the last century.”
Branson says it could indicate Dior’s marketing ethics are stuck in prior era, but it also could be “a calculated move to reclaim that disaffected male audience of middle-aged men wanting to feel as powerful and omnipresent as the scent was in 1992”.
Branson continues that Dior would have the choice of thousands of high-profile male ambassadors for the campaign, and the choice of Depp is no doubt one of the most polarising ones.
“The reappointment of Depp as the face of their men’s fragrance sends a clear message of redemption,” she said.
“Dior is certainly making a statement and attracting significant media attention for the reappointment. Some would argue that it’s simply a reinstating of a previous contract, but that’s a naive argument.”
Branson also says the proximity of the tagline — “Fearless yet human, just like Sauvage” — to Depp in the wake of the abusive allegations “makes me feel sick”.
“It’s like an “F-you” statement to the progress of understanding of the prevalence of domestic violence,” she said.
“Dior’s target for this new campaign is not empowered, progressive customers who are their target for couture.”
Dior Australia did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the new campaign from SmartCompany.
‘The half-life of a scandal’
But brand counsel Michel Hogan says, of Depp’s reinstatement as brand ambassador, “given the half-life of a scandal is pretty short these days, it could be a smart bet”.
Hogan continues that it’s telling that the original campaign was paused during the defamation trial, but did not result in the brand dumping Depp as ambassador altogether.
That suggests a calculated risk has been taken on Dior’s part, she continues: “In effect they are betting that more people (men and women alike) love Depp, than not.”
And if the comments on Dior’s Instagram post showing the monochromatic looks from Depp are anything to go by, Dior may have it right, Hogan says, as most comments are favourable, though she warns the brand may delete negative ones.
Ultimately, Hogan continues, Dior might just be in it for the brand awareness such a controversial reappointment generates.
“The timing of the campaign reset does seem guaranteed to generate publicity for both Dior and their Sauvage scent, so the reboot to Depp as spokesperson is unlikely to be coincidental,” she said.
“Dior is in effect betting that their long-standing relationship with Depp and his rebellious image is worth more to them than any potential short-term hit to their social capital with some customers.”