The fashion brand Valentino has apologized this weekend after sending out a promotional email that leveraged the occasion of Philip Seymour Hoffman's funeral to flog their wares, celebrity funerals being universally regarded in the business as the Super Bowl of death branding synergy.
The email, sent on Friday, included two photos of Hoffman's The Master co-star Amy Adams sporting one of their bags, presumably because they weren't able to secure a shot of the actor's still-fresh corpse draped in flowing Italian silk.
"We are pleased to announce Amy Adams carrying the Valentino Garavany [sic] Rockstud Duble [sic] bag from the Spring/Summer 2014 collection on Feb. 6 in New York," Valentino rep Upasna Khosla wrote, according to Page Six. When misspelling the name of the product is only the second biggest offense in your press release, you know you're having a bad day.
The bag retails for over $3,000. One thing you can't pin a dollar amount to, however, is tact. Tact is sold in Euros, because it's fancy.
Naturally this was not very well received.
Mona Swanson, the vice-president of communications for Valentino USA, released a follow up yesterday, writing "We sincerely regret releasing a photo to the media … of Amy Adams with a Valentino Bag. We were not aware the photograph was taken while she was attending the wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman. It was an innocent mistake and we apologise to Ms Adams who was not aware, or a part of, our PR efforts."
"Amy Adams is not a paid spokesperson for Valentino, and the suggestion she would use this moment to participate in a promotion is truly appalling," Adams' rep said in a disavowal of the stunt.
Meanwhile, as the New York Post also points out, UGG Australia took the occasion to send Hoffman's celebrity friends gift bags filled with gear to help them navigate the icy streets of New York City and also the frozen labyrinths of the great beyond, where it is cold this time of year and also all times of year via the absence of God's light.
Outrageous stuff, to be sure. But it's not really all that surprising that a company would try to turn Charon's ferry into a logo-festooned stock car is it? This is how things work now. Every time the anniversary of some national tragedy or other rolls around we're confronted with hapless flacks piggy-backing on death and suffering, like AT&T on 9/11 this year, or SpaghettiOs on Pearl Harbor Day, and then we run them through the social media shame gauntlet, whereupon the apology puts the brand's name back into the news cycle yet again. This is nothing new, and it's not going away any time soon. Why? Because it works. Here we are talking about Valentino. Let's all definitely go buy some Valentino bags and other things they probably make. Hats? And then, for the third go round, we ascertain which brands won and lost the big event, be it the Super Bowl, the Grammys, the Very Serious and Meaningful Celebrity Death, and the mentions keep on rolling in.
The truth is, things like these aren't faux pas anymore, they're calculated marketing moves pulled off by savvy brands who don't care what the context of any given sentence is, as long as their name shows up in it. You know who else liked Valentino? Hitler and your shitty ex-girlfriend and Mackelmore. Probably they did. The point is, Valentino still got their brand mentioned in there didn't they? Now we're thinking about it.
Everything is an advertisement. The first rights to birth photos of celebrities' children are sold as a product now. Why? So publications can sell ads next to them. A birth certificate is a press release. We all relinquish our own identities to social media companies so that they may sell ads next to them. Why is it any different to brand death, then? A funeral is the biggest branding opportunity known to man. It's both a plug for the retrospective greatest hits box set of a person's life, but also an advertisement for the rest of the people who are living. Every funeral we attend, every celebrity death we tweet about, is an announcement to the rest of the world that our brand still exists. We're alive! Consume us.
This is an ad too.
UPDATE: Kristen Scaravaglione, Sr. PR Manager of UGG Australia has written to Gawker to dispute the Post's account.
As we clearly told the NY Post reporter before she filed the story, UGG did not send boots to the friends of Philip Seymour Hoffman or his family in hopes they'd wear them to his funeral. We also have no knowledge or confirmation to whom she spoke to for the story, called out as an UGG Associate.
When it snows in New York, we get a lot of requests for boots from stylists for their clients. When it's Fashion Week in New York, we get a lot of requests. When it snows during Fashion Week in New York, we got a lot more requests. To the extent that we can, we provide product for stylists' clients. We don't ask stylists for what purpose their clients need the product, and would not know if anyone who attended a funeral did so in our product. It's not our business to know. And we certainly wouldn't then promote a sighting of a celebrity in our product when he or she is attending a funeral. It's just not done. At least not by UGG.