The Conrad Hotels Campaign: The Luxury of Being Smug

September 22, 2011

Photo from Conrad Hotels & Resorts

Let me describe the image of a recent Conrad Hotels print ad campaign I came across in The Atlantic: Two stocky, grey-haired, and shabbily dressed Asian ladies chopping a pile of fish in what looks to be a murky Hong Kong street market, while standing next to them are two young Caucasian models -- bowls of noodles in hand -- who looked inexplicably pleased ... with themselves. The copy reads: “The Luxury of Being Yourself.”

What exactly does this ad tell me about luxury? As far as I can tell, it's that well-dressed white people can instantly grasp that elusive "luxury" when placed in an environment that makes their physical features and designer clothes stand out. And what kind of "Being Yourself" activity is portrayed? Noodle eating, in a rather blasé manner? Somehow, that seems to be the last thing these models would ever do. Somewhat ironically, the copy seems better applied to the elder Asian ladies because they are made to look like chopping is all they ever do.

A little further digging found that Conrad Hotel was so proud of this ad campaign, they even sent out a self-congratulatory press release about it. Here's a quote from the official Conrad Hotels PR on the ad (the above version shows one less fish-chopping Asian lady than the version I saw in The Atlantic):

"Conrad enlisted famed fashion photographer Anders Overgaard  … [who] used his unique voice to showcase the beauty, local culture and sophistication that Conrad Hotels & Resorts offers to travelers around the globe."

I would love to hear from anyone at Conrad, Y&R or Edelman (Conrad's PR agency), to explain to me how this noodle shop image conveys anything the hotel offers their clientele (other than abject flattery, and an assurance that they are still far superior to those Orientals).

But that's just my take on this ad. What do fellow Hyphen readers think? 





The woman is engaging in her livelihood. A common place feature in many Chinese movies. . Conrad is saying this is a place you want to see. . The ad pretty much says, be in a environment you are normally not in, the street life in Hong Kong is exciting (and yes, a bit exotic). . The ad is designed to appeal to high income people. . Hong Kong is happy to take white people's (and anyone else's) money. . The man will probably get soup on his shirt.
This ad is offensive because it uses the Asian women as mere props to bolster privileged (white) people's view of themselves as overall better than the rest of us, particularly Asians. The fact that the ad features women who are much shorter, much more shabbily dressed than the white models further reinforces the contrast Conrad is trying to create between them versus us, with us coming up short, as it were. So wrong.
Very interesting