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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cambodia: Luis Vuitton and the Question of Core Values

Readers of high-gloss magazines will soon be treated to the sight of the comely Ms. Angelina Jolie, sans makeup, dressed in olive-drab, ‘in a swamp with a £7,000 bag,’ as the Guardian puts it. The photograph, featured in Luis Vuitton’s so-called ‘Core Values’ Campaign, was taken in — for us — familiar environs. The lush landscape setting off Jolie’s moody blue eyes belongs, in fact, to Cambodia, specifically to Siem Reap, the well-touristed area north of Pursat, where we work with some of the poorest families in the world.

Vuitton’s ‘Core Values’ campaign is, as far as one can gather, somehow about promoting extremely expensive handbags while assuring consumers that said bags are naturally associated with the brand of ethos evoked by celebrities like Jolie and Bono. Which are — philanthropy? Advocacy? A not entirely cursory read of the ‘Core Values’ website leads us to believe that the advertising campaign is basically just…an advertising campaign, presumably so that people will buy more bags. There were allusions to Al Gore’s Climate project, so perhaps Gore’s environmental advocacy organization will see a few bucks come its way?

As groundbreaking as Angelina Jolie without mascara may seem, we’d like to gently suggest that a demonstration of your ‘core values’ might not cost as much as a Louis Vuitton bag. Or perhaps it might.

In Cambodia, where the ad was shot, we can provide a clean water well that would serve a few families for around $1,000. So for the cost of this $11,000 bag, you could basically provide a small village with water for life.

In a corporate milieu where brands are constantly trying to humanize themselves by associating with ideas, cultures, and personalities that fit only very marginally and awkwardly with the actual, raw products they are hawking, it’s not a bad idea to keep your wits about you. Any sane person will tell you that a village without dysentery, cholera, and the preventable death of children is more valuable—to its core—than a monogram spangled piece of leather.