When an advertiser relies on a celebrity endorser, it can set up an unintended tension: Who's the star of the spot, the celebrity or the product? If this is mishandled, viewers remember the endorser but not what he or she endorsed. One recent ad that walks this line pretty well has Enrique Iglesias shilling for Doritos Salsa Chips. You can see it here, via Ads.com.
The ad: Iglesias, arguably the hottest male sex symbol around these days, seems to be serenading a couple of his multitudinous young female fans. In a voice-over, he talks about finding someone with that certain something that "makes me fall in love." Then it becomes clear that it's not the young ladies in the front row that he's focused on—it's a particular young man. As it starts to dawn on this guy that Iglesias is giving him very special attention, he glances nervously from side to side, as if he's trying to figure out what Iglesias is up to. At this point, Iglesias reaches out to the guy and snatches away his bag of Doritos Salsa Chips. That's what he's up to: satisfying his lust for salty snacks.
In tune: As a 30-second story that would be amusing on its own, the spot is clever. The trouble with a lot of ads that work well as 30-second stories is that they have almost nothing to do with the product—it's just mentioned at the end, after your attention has been captured, essentially as a non sequitur. What I like about this ad is that the bag of Doritos is front and center. Yes, it's amusing that heartthrob Iglesias is ignoring the girls, but the point is that the thing being advertised is built into the punch line.
Male gaze: Of course, the other notable thing about this particular 30-second story is that we spend a good chunk of it wondering about what Iglesias, who is apparently not just heterosexual but so damn heterosexual that he's dating Anna Kournikova, sees in that young man in the front row. It's been a while since this column took up the subject of vaguely gay imagery in advertising, but the theme is hard to miss in this spot. A Web site that's essentially devoted to the topic, the Commercial Closet, took note of the Doritos ad not long ago, noting that, "The ad carries a neutrality to it, since the stunned fan was not appalled at the star's apparent romantic interest, though it would have been groundbreaking if he was indeed interested but still left behind for his Doritos." True enough. But like many advertisers before it, Doritos seems content merely to flirt with gayness and leave it at that. And besides, from the advertiser's point of view, it's not Iglesias whose attractiveness is supposed to cross all boundaries—it's the chips.