What is the impact on a brand’s reputation when it associates itself closely with a man found by a court to have used violence against his wife and somebody described by a High Court judge as a “monster”. Damaging? Toxic? Catastrophic?
Received wisdom would suggest that Dior is playing with fire by continuing its marketing relationship with Johnny Depp after the actor losing a libel case against The Sun following the newspaper’s description of him as a “wife beater”.
The court dismissed the claim for compensation by the Pirates of the Caribbean star at the end of one of the most widely followed libel trials of the century. Depp was also denied the right to appeal.
Depp has been the face the Dior’s men’s fragrance Sauvage since 2015 and it was generally expected to drop him after the trial. After all pretty much every other brand has run a mile from him. But the French company has surprised almost everybody in the marketing world by continuing to run adverts featuring the actor on television and newspapers.
The Daily Mail told us last week that Depp fans have been “flocking” to buy Sauvage. It reported that Twitter users described Depp as “a victim” and that internet searches for Sauvage have increased by 23 per cent since the trial. The cologne is also said to be the bestselling male fragrance at The Fragrance Shop.
Meanwhile the Advertising Standards Authority received just 11 complaints when a Sauvage advert featuring Depp was aired during Bake Off on Channel 4.
Dior has clearly taken a calculated decision that Depp’s wild image is good for its “wild” cologne and the commercial benefit will outweigh the risk to its reputation.
That is a brave call and runs counter to the prevailing mood which places equality and justice above any commercial advantage. But perhaps Dior has judged that in these post-Trump times when our society remains polarised and the talk is still of a culture war, there is a sizeable minority who will always admire the controversial and celebrate those it sees as sticking two fingers up at “wokeism”.
Only time will tell us if Dior standing by Depp is an aberration or a sign of a more fundamental shift.