The Crack Up: why the Gatsby marketing bandwagon is not destined for Greatness

Andrew Boulton is a copywriter with a decade of scribbling experience at places like Egg the online bank, some top agencies in the Midlands and once for a man who carved dolphins out of cheese.

He was nominated for the Professional Publishers Association Award for Business Media Columnist of the Year despite having little or no grasp of the semi colon. He has decent hair but a disappointing beard. You can follow him on Twitter @Boultini.

With increasing regularity, brands and corporations hitch themselves with a flourish to the launch of a particularly well anticipated movie. Thrusting a bottle of Heineken into the hand of James Bond was one of the more vulgar recent acts of this kind.

The latest film release deemed stimulating enough to invite such commercial frenzy is Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel ‘The Great Gatsby’.

Already we have seen branding affiliations with the likes of Brooks Brothers, Tiffany’s, The Plaza Hotel (who, to be fair, have a legitimate connection with Fitzgerald) and even an especially garish exercise in product placement from Moët and Chandon champagne.

And yet, by all accounts the film itself seems to be something of a disappointment. Luhrmann, as is his unerring fashion, has created what appears to be an exuberant, gaudy and thoroughly lurid interpretation of famously intricate source material. Some have even gone so far as to say his unwaveringly stylistic approach to the project borders on crassness, even vulgarity.

This is for others to discern. My own limited understanding of the text is that, if nothing else, it espouses the cruelty, superficiality and ultimate purposelessness of material wealth. A strange moral for the marketing world to so gleefully attach itself to.

And here in lies the contradiction that ultimately undermines the efforts of those coupling their brand or product to Gatsby. The enduring style, sophistication and wild pleasures so readily associated with a Jazz Age largely documented and embodied by Fitzgerald is the mere surface of the book.

And yet the film, and its brand associates, have elected not to delve beyond this layer. If the very best of marketing is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there is nothing discernibly ‘gorgeous’ about this particular venture.

Yet even putting this fundamental (and seemingly wilful) misinterpretation aside, is the poor reception afforded to the film itself damaging to the brands aligned with it?

The answer is probably not. As I observed before, the brands have bought into the gloss of the project and while many will observe that this is misplaced and that the film itself lacks the requisite substance, those very brands have at least been able to exploit the spectacle and nostalgic reverence of the endeavour.

And unlike the film itself, they are not burdened by responsibilities to deliver the tragic import of the novel. They are the revellers at Gatsby’s parties who are nowhere to be found when it is time for his funeral.

I can’t help but wonder what Fitzgerald, who himself found working in Hollywood to be both lucrative and degrading, would make of this. I doubt very much he would think it ‘Great’.


Andrew Boulton is copywriter, of very little Greatness, at the Together Agency.

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