Content is king, the saying goes, and no doubt that’s truer than ever. But what if product is king too – particularly online or on social media? One person who’s an expert in both domains has just founded a new luxury division of French production company Quad. For her nascent operation – called In Finé – Johanna Marciano is recruiting directors who will help her put the product front and centre. More than that, she’s evolving the good old pack shot into a new form of visual poetry.
“Here in France, particularly, the product in luxury advertising tends to take second place to the ambience, the dream,” she observes. In the United States, where she worked for many years, the product was more often the focal point.
Franco-American and born in Paris, Johanna learned her trade in the unforgiving glass towers of New York. “At one point, when I worked for an agency called Pure, I was one of only two female creative directors in my field in New York City.”
Initially she was drawn to fashion, and began her studies at a famed Paris haute couture school. Then she turned her attention another form of design, studying visual communications at Parsons School of Design in New York. The degree she earned there led to a career developing visual identities and brand strategies.
“After Parsons I got hired by a company called Pittard Sullivan, which was one of the first major broadcast design companies. We were a small team given large responsibilities. They shaped us into becoming branding specialists, designers and directors all in one. I basically grew up there.”
Later she worked for Lee Hunt/Razorfish and MTV Networks, with a number of freelance projects in between. Over time she transitioned from broadcast into commercials via the post-production world. “I come from a 3D animation background,” she says.
While at Pure in 2008 she earned an Emmy nomination for directing the title sequence of the TV show New Amsterdam (“I was beaten by the titles for Mad Men,” she says, “so I can’t be too unhappy about that.”)
The path to her current role continued at another agency, Scarlett, where she developed brand strategies for the likes of Avon, L’Oreal and Garnier. “More or less accidentally, at Pure and then at Scarlett, I became a luxury specialist. I did product demos and packaging sequences for about 14 years. So I understand the language of beauty and luxury, which is completely unique.”
When she moved back to Paris with her partner and their new baby, she spent three years shuttling back to New York for one week a month. That ended in June last year, when she approached François Brun – Quad’s co-founder and CEO – with her big idea.
Immerse the consumer
“I’m convinced that luxury clients here want to sell products too. It’s fine to offer people a dream, but I feel that in order to grow a brand – especially a luxury brand – elevating the product is key. You shouldn’t save it until the end. On the contrary, putting the product forth in an elegant and sublime way allows consumers to remember it while at the same time growing brand loyalty.”
Beauty advertising typically features lengthy claims about product benefits. In New York, Johanna often found herself translating those claims into animated visuals.
“When I came to Paris I had this idea of focusing on the product, but I didn’t just want to do 3D packages. I wanted to valorise the product. Most people didn’t quite understand that idea – but François got it.”
Although she's more than able to make a TV spot, her pitch was aided by the changing nature of advertising. “People don’t often see TV commercials any more – they consume snippets on social media. In fact there are many more interesting ways of presenting your message, whether through Instagram or AR experiences in store. The goal is to immerse the consumer in the world of the brand.”
But since today’s consumers today are impatient as well as demanding, you need to hook them quickly. “You can’t waste their time. You need to tell them why they’re here. And the key to that is the product.”
In Finé will focus on beauty products and accessories. It makes sense, as these companies spend fortunes on product research and design. The films Johanna has in mind, both through 3D and live action, will enhance the feel, texture and – yes – the packaging of these objects of desire. “It’s still storytelling, but we’ll tell the story through the product.”
In Finé’s roster of directors already includes Elisa Valenzuela, Animal, Alexandre Piriou, Julien Fanton D’Andon, Davide Bedoni and Satellite Lab. It’s early days – at the time of writing the unit is three months old – but a project with Hermès is forthcoming and other brands are intrigued. In Finé will deal with clients directly, rather than going through an agency. “Luxury goods clients know their product very well, and I think they will appreciate speaking with somebody who has proven expertise in their field and speaks their language.”
Culturally, she admits, there may be some adjustment. “Although I was born here and did my whole schooling here, I feel very American in my way of thinking. And I’m perceived as very American, in that I’m goal-oriented and to the point. I still embrace French elegance very much, that’s why I’m here.”
She believes a combination of American pragmatism and French poetry could prove a winning formula – especially for luxury brands who want to put their products, rather than models, brand ambassadors or influencers, in the spotlight.
“French style and American performance. I think the two make for a very powerful alliance.”