Jewel shills for Schick.

Advertising deconstructed.
July 7 2003 2:56 PM

Shilling for Schick

Jewel hates ads. Except the ones that use her new hit single.

The singer-songwriter Jewel released the first single from her latest album not long ago. It's called "Intuition." In it, she laments our "world of post-modern fad," where everyone seems to have "something to sell," and advises listeners to "follow your heart." The video for the song extends the theme: Simple, real-life Jewel wanders around the big city, and from time to time a kind of elaborate fantasy world intrudes: A kid dunking a basketball, for instance, abruptly freezes in a midair Nike-like pose, and an advertising slogan appears out of nowhere. Jewel herself is drawn into these scenes, abruptly morphing from fresh-faced girl to Britneyed-out sexpot, complete with backup dancers. The idea seems to be that such fakery is laughable and unnecessary.

Jewel's sell-out song"Intuition" is also getting a lot of exposure somewhere else: as the background music in some recent ads for a Schick razor. The razor is also called "Intuition." You can see one of these spots at left. Basically, it shows a series of women experiencing comical distress while attempting to shave with old-style, traditional razors. One woman, in the tub, loses her bar of soap. Another gets a blast of shaving cream in the face. A third, with her leg propped on the bathroom sink, can't keep her balance and topples. In contrast, a woman using an Intuition razor has an Edenic shaving experience in the shower. An announcer explains that the device's three blades are "surrounded by a unique skin conditioning solid," which eliminates the need for cream and lets you "lather and shave in one easy step." The tagline is "Trust your Intuition."

According to Schick, the remarkable title overlap of its new product and Jewel's new product was "serendipitous." The razor name was apparently already planned, and the song already recorded, when Schick's ad agency heard it and licensed it. Aside from using the track as background music, the company had Jewel sing at Intiutionfest, a razor-promoting concert in Central Park. And of course there's a Web site.

I don't think Schick can be faulted for latching itself onto the latest hit from a fairly popular artist. But I'm a little curious about what Jewel is up to. I have nothing against the song "Intuition"; I like the occasional unabashed pop tune. On the other hand, I think I like this one because it's the best Britney Spears song I've heard in ages. It's possible to overlook the mild hypocrisy of Jewel poking fun at a musical and video style by basically copying it and adding a half-hearted wink. But how to explain writing a song that tells us all to resist the total marketing mentality all around us, promoting it with a video that satirizes advertising, all the while urging us to just be ourselves—and then licensing that song to a consumer products company for a huge sales campaign?

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This seems so blatantly contradictory that it undercuts not just Jewel's message, but her status as an endorser: Presumably that status had something to do with the idea that she's more "authentic" than some flash-in-the-pan pop tart, but it's now pretty hard to argue this with a straight face. In fact, the idea of "trusting your intuition" has rarely been so roundly mocked.

Unless, of course, I have completely misread Jewel's song and video. In the song, when she sings, "Sell yourself, just cash in," I took that to be the voice of Oppressive Society personified, but maybe it's actually the voice of Jewel. Maybe the Jewel gyrating in a skimpy outfit and peddling Jewel Jeans is the "real" one, and it's her bemused, street-meandering self that's the false construct, the inner loser we all need to overcome. Maybe what she's saying is that if "your intuition" is telling you to chase the latest trend, because that's where the money is, then for goodness' sake do it. Of course, you'll have make your own judgment about how plausible that theory is. Follow your heart. …

Rob Walker is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and Design Observer and the author of Buying In.

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