New Diesel ads put focus on Africa

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Diesel turns the world upside down-literally-in a $15 million international campaign for its spring/summer 2001 collection. Breaking in February issues of Nylon and Flaunt, the ads revise the world map to set Africa as the center of global culture.

"`What if' is the question we're asking in this campaign," said Maurizio Marchiori, international advertising and communications director for Diesel, an Italian fashion brand. "`What if' we switched positions with Africa? Though it is now a depressed continent, we wanted to revisit its beautiful places, ideas and culture, but in a completely unreal way. In a reverse world, there would be Mombasa Beach instead of Miami Beach, it would be Africa giving aid to America, it would be the Red Spear instead of the Red Cross."

The ads showcase a new Africa, a "mirror image of our so-called developed world," and highlight the sexy, successful and wealthy jet set living the glamorous life. Images of young black women lounging in the back of a limousine, drinking champagne, are juxtaposed with "headlines" from a mock newspaper, The Daily African: "Long limos ... Stylish commuting causes traffic gridlock in Mombasa." The twist on stereotypes also extends to famine, war and disease in Europe and the Americas.

"The intelligent part of our advertising is to inspire people to think in different, alternative ways about our world," said. Mr. Marchiori. "But we don't want to tell them what to think. We're not being political, we want young people to think and interpret for themselves."

The "Lifestyles on Top of the World" campaign touts apparel catalogs in the form of a Lifestyle magazine supplement-complete with party pages, "EuroAid 2001" coverage and tongue-in-cheek articles on "how to live successfully in Africa." The catalogs will be distributed in Diesel stores.

"I think the idea of asking `What if Africa were the richest nation and we [in the U.S.] were part of the Third World' is an amazing one. I got very excited when the campaign was presented to me because it's a very empowering message," said Marvin Scott Jarrett, editor in chief of Nylon. "[Diesel's] messages have been strong and controversial-It's what they're known for."

Diesel's spring ads are product-centered, with clean presentation of apparel including underwear, sunglasses, swimwear and a watch line from Fossil (Diesel has a licensing agreement with Fossil USA). The collection's theme is "Le Chic Afreak," a mix of tribal and Western symbols with a touch of kitsch. New executions will launch in March, and "Lifestyles on Top of the World" will run in outdoor and print venues through July.

With a target audience of 18-35, Diesel hits at a midlevel price point of $125, said Paul Witt, marketing and media manager. Though the market shows signs of a lull, Diesel claims to be growing and investing consistently; their 2000 season showed a 25% increase in sales.

"The solution for these times is less distribution and a higher price," said Mr. Marchiori. "We are very controlled when it comes to our performance. Every six months we do another new collection and a new media campaign."

The Diesel in-house creative team handled the new campaign with Paradiset DDB, London. Diesel traditionally has had a mix of in-house and outsourced creative work, but it is reviewing the work of some new agencies, said Mr. Marchiori.

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