Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Balenciaga Ad!

Balenciaga, the luxury brand, definitely goes hard sometimes. I've talked about their ads before.

They put togther a little ad campaign, which includes these photos. Crappy screenshots are all that there is, because they pulled the little campaign immediately.

At first glance, there's not a lot going on here. At second glance, maybe you notice that the teddy bears the kids are holding are actually handbags, and that they (the bears, not the kids) seem to be wearing bondage gear.

In the last photo, there's a bunch of paperwork. The nearest bit, at the bottom of the frame, appears to be something related to a court case around kiddie porn, specifically "United States vs. Williams (2008)" in which the Supreme Court upheld some details about what is considered banned speech. I think the gist is that, in some cases, material that is not actually pornographic or obscene or whatever is nevertheless banned if it's sufficiently adjacent to kiddie porn in some sense that probably does not matter here.

Nobody knows what the rest of the paperwork says, because that's not the bait. The bait is in the bit at the bottom of the frame.

Anyways, sure, there's probably some "in-joke" cosplay embedded in here about whether or not they're engaged in banned speech, which they pretty obviously are not.

This has, of course, generated millions of dollars in free marketing for Balenciaga because internet scolds have very little else to do with their time. According to the now-standard script Balenciaga has pulled the ads, issued an apology, and blamed a nameless third party.

The reality is that they leaked it, of course. The "smoking gun" text contains nothing about kiddie porn, you actually have to search it up, or be pretty familiar with Supreme Court decisions around kiddie porn to make the connection. The word "sex" appears several times, but there's no reference to children visible at all.

Here is the full text of the smoking gun, which is the right-hand edge of a partial sheet of paper:

…estion that it is occurring.
…use is not sexual inter-
… but rather sexual inter-
… ed, even though (through
… ay not actually have oc-
… a reasonable viewer to
…aged in that conduct on
… e Speech Coalition,
… visual depiction of
… although the sexual
…t must involve actual
… This change eliminates any
…ld pornography or sex
…ors might be covered by the term

…statute, as we have con-
…l amount of protected

..are categorically
…ons, 413
<illegible, maybe “…is”>

Somehow, the sleuths got from this to "kiddie porn" immediately. Hmm. I wonder how that happened. The only possible is the line "...ld pornography" which is ambiguous, and anyways the leading ell is pretty much illegible.

It occurs to me, a little later, that the papers in the background might be from the same case, and that the actual smoking gun is back there. The idiot influencer they slipped the story to may have picked up some random stick instead of the actual smoking gun, but it doesn't matter because once the connection is made the actual court decision can be found easily and the connection can be confirmed and nobody is going to notice that the shill picked up the wrong thing and blew their cover.

Ok, so this ad campaign is basically some kids holding teddy bears in bondage, which would be a little outré but whatever. Nobody would care. Slip in a paper with some text on it that refers to an Supreme Court decision around child porn, and it definitely changes the color of the ads. The decision, recall, tightens law around child porn, in response to an earlier decision that loosened it.

The content of the ads, we must admit, refers to kiddie porn. Obliquely, subtly, but it absolutely does.

Does it take any sort of position on kiddie porn? It does not. The Internet Scolds are, of course, going on at length about how Balenciaga is promoting child molestion and so on, but this is not content that is present in the photos.

Balenciaga essentially stood up, whispered "kiddie porn," and sat back down. That's it.

Is this tasteful? No, it is not. Does it consititute promoting kiddie porn, human trafficking, child molestation?

There is a school of thought that says you cannot say "kiddie porn" without appending a lengthy dissertation about how bad it is, and failure to do the second part is literally the same thing as supporting it. This school of thought is supremely dumb, but it definitely exists.

It is interesting to see how the hidden detail alters the sense of the thing, though. The photos become not merely kids holding teddy bears, and not even merely kids holding mommy's funny joke teddy bear, but the miasma of kiddie porn rather does infuse the whole thing. Since the photos steadfastly refuse to take a stand, and I think we can state that pretty unambiguously — references are present that introduce the subject, but there are no pro- or anti- signals, we are free to project whatever we want onto them.

Naturally, the scolds are doing their best to generate value for Balenciaga by projecting a "pro-" stance onto the photos, and dramatically freaking out and offering up long twitter threads of art history explaining how this has been a problem forever.

Meanwhile, Balenciaga's customers, who are mostly in China, and who almost uniformly do not give a single shit what the scolds think, are getting fed a steady diet of "Balenciaga is an edgy luxury brand, you should consider buying shoes from them."

It's solid marketing work. It's tasteless, and I'm not in favor. I admire the craft, though, I admire the craft.

Further information suggests that the legal documents appear in a completely different section of the web site in a completely separate ad campaign, and were never remotely adjacent to the pictures with the kids. No idea what to make of this, if true. It is possible that we're seeing a "story" about a free speech lawyer who wears Balenciaga shoes and owns Balenciga bags, in one section of the web site, and a completely different story about kids on another, unrelated, section of the same web site, and that Professional Scolds are simply mashing them together.

1 comment:

  1. "It's solid marketing work. It's tasteless, and I'm not in favor. I admire the craft, though, I admire the craft."

    It's an interesting industry, whose sole purpose is to harness human motivation by a rigorous, quasi-scientific methodology to do things that would not otherwise occur to its marks, or would even be against their better judgement, if they had any. Sadly, that ship has sailed.