My eyes pass swiftly over most fashion ads, which can be counted on to feature models posing with fill-in-the-blank lipstick, clothes or jewelry.
But the new Louis Vuitton ad featuring Muhammad Ali made me pause. The three-year-old in the photo – shot last month by Annie Leibovitz – holds a feet-apart-chest-out stance that seems to say the same sort of thing his 70-year-old grandfather once brashly blurted: “I’m puuritty. I’m the grrreatest.”
Fashion and luxury ads rarely win big ad-industry awards. But despite their substantial volume of ads, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, and Ralph Lauren – have not.
Print ads featuring the boxing champion will launch June 14, in the latest installment of an ad campaign that has featured Mikhail Gorbachev, soccer great Pelé, musician Keith Richards and, most recently, actress Angelina Jolie, who was shown floating on a Cambodian boat with a Louis Vuitton "Alto" bag at her side.
The ad, which will run in magazines and newspapers in 60 countries, seems to capture Mr. Ali in private reverie. Photographed last month by Anne Leibovitz in his Phoenix backyard, Mr. Ali watches with pleasure as a young boy stands with fists gloved, feet splayed, chest puffed. Though not identified in the ad, the child is his grandson, Curtis Muhammad Conway Jr.
Louis Vuitton, now part of the LHVM luxury conglomerate, started as a French luggage maker in the 19th century. While many consumers associate the brand with its "LV" logo wallets and handbags—or with its clothing designer,Marc Jacobs —the company sees travel and journeys as the central message of its marketing and hammers home the idea that there should be a Louis Vuitton bag along on any great journey. The company since 2007 has focused its ads on iconic individuals whose lives can be seen as extraordinary journeys. "We are a very specific brand—we are the only one bound with travel," says Yves Carcelle, Louis Vuitton's chairman and chief executive.
In an industry flooded with cliche repetitive marketing Louis Vuitton remains the steadfast for invoking thought provocative marketing with dignity.