Meet the Hidden Superhero in Publicis Italy's New Diesel Spot
An actor who, in the end, needs no harnesses
Diesel's new ad sports trademark quirk, silky production, and the obligatory cameo of an Italian accent. It stars a baby Tom Cruise of an actor, wearing a CGI suit and filming the most emotional scene in a mediocre action film.
"We made it. We won. And you'll be right here with me the whole time," he squeaks, as his co-star (a black guy) dies in his arms (a reminder to all of who wears the pants in the race wars, blah blah, but maybe that's a different movie…?).
We're kidding! There's some OK diversity here. It's just that most of them are figurants in the background of this dude's life. He's the star, despite his lack of talent.
But wait! He's ultimately even more than that.
Things aren't going well, and the camera guy is smirking. He can't help it. The frustrated director (our Italian!) calls cut on this, their 18th take of the same scene. Thus the actor proposes a scene change—"When's the part where I fly?"—and tries, several times, to nail a rocketlike shoot into the air.
It's just not dude's day. So he returns to his trailer and puts on what we all fondly refer to as a Canadian tuxedo. Later, when he dips into an alley to tie a shoelace, he takes a furtive look around and actually does shoot into the air.
Because he's not just playing a superhero; he is one!
The work, by Publicis Italy, is headlined "For Successful Living," the slogan Diesel's borne, at least internally, since its inception in 1978. Its boldface, all-caps type contrasts with the subversiveness of its ads and executions, a way of saying "successful living" is about assuming what makes you unique and dangerous to the status quo.
This work has a '90s feel to it, something in the fade of the jeans, the Wayfarer-inspired glasses, and the combat boots. Whatever these people are shooting feels like a movie we've seen, and the actor—his vanilla-chiseled face and the wave of his hair—looks like a refugee from Bop magazine.
Diesel was my status marker in college. I bought the shoes and the jeans, and still love what the brand represents. It's playful, volatile; it made me feel brave, even when people rolled their eyes and called me weird (the lamest insult, especially when it comes from a peer).
And its ads—always beautifully produced, smoky and glam while being gritty and chaotic—are tiny triumphs: "Go With the Flaw" brought out the gangster quality that's always lived in Edith Piaf's "Je ne regrette rien," and last year's "Be a Follower" took the piss out of aspirational influencer culture, somehow making it feel subversive to opt out instead. The actors are diverse and strange. The only thing it feels like Diesel judges are the people who judge you.
So this ad, with its baby '90s-cutout heartthrob who happens to be a superhero when not doing his job of pretending to be one, isn't really a reflection of Diesel propagating those insidious values we often see in fashion, something Benetton's Oliviero Toscani systematically observed in ad work that wasn't his own: "Where are the pimple-faced teenagers, the immigrants, the accident victims...? They've been replaced by Claudia Schiffer, the embodiment of beauty in all its wholesome, blonde, rosy, Aryan perfection."
No, no. This piece isn't "Gucci in the Streets," which rode the wave of strikes and protests triggered by people on the fringes, and replaced them with white faces, to match the aesthetic of the New Wave. (What kills nostalgia-era sex appeal more than diversity, amirite?!)
It's enough to say the ad isn't meant for me, and that's fine. As for whatever larger message hides within its storyline, I'm reminded only of Bill's Superman monologue at the end of Kill Bill 2: "When Superman wakes up in the morning, he's Superman. His alter-ego is Clark Kent… what Kent wears, the glasses, the business suit, that's the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us… Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race."
Maybe that's the story: This guy was born better, and plays bland, because that's all he feels we're ready for.
Or maybe it's just that he can only fly while wearing Diesel.