Product vs Commodity: Lessons in Visualisations and The Power of Emotions from Charlize Theron.

22 January 2021

Charlize Theron struts confidently towards the camera as the sound of ‘A Funky Space Reincarnation‘ by Marvin Gaye plays in the background. She disarms herself of jewellery and clothes, looks right at the camera and whispers “J’adore Dior”.

And you’ll find fewer better examples of ‘product vs commodity’ than this famous ad back in 2011.

Her attitude and confidence was captivating.

But the story she told was that she didn’t need expensive items or diamonds – all she needed was Dior. In those 30 seconds Dior had managed to programme me into feeling like they must be the crème de la crème of the fashion fragrance industry.

I was hardly what you would call the target market for this product but even if I was, Charlize never actually applied any fragrance in the advertisement and simply walking towards the camera removing apparel and whispering the brand name. The obvious answer would be that the combination of lighting, editing, and backing music create a seductive scene to draw you in, but these are only the mechanisms by which Dior delivered its true offering.

The answer was that Dior and was never selling perfume.

Years ago, as an aspiring Architecture student at the Edinburgh College of Art, I got into a debate with a Fashion student friend of mine. I don’t mind admitting that I held a few preconceptions about the relevancy of the more extreme areas of the fashion industry. To me they seemed to bear little substance or practical contribution to the industry as a whole. However, he raised my consciousness on product vs commodity by explaining in layman’s terms that a model on a catwalk wearing a dress made of razor blades was not necessarily showcasing the product in a literal sense but presenting a concept that could lead other designers to make bolder design decisions.

And that this is the driving force behind evolving self-expression through fashion. I’ve never been an early adopter of fashion trends (barely qualify as a laggard, some might say) so I conceded the point.

Debbie Harry, 1995

This is something I think the fashion industry has excelled at above some other industries. The fragrance industry is overly saturated and competitive and while Charlize and other celebrity types have long championed fragrance marketing, the public interest in celebrity promotion has shown signs of fatigue. The industry has been forced to find new ways of inventing itself through digital delivery and physical application, but that doesn’t change the fact that fragrances are fragrances. Success lies not in inventing another combination of aromatic chemicals that will sit on a shelf amongst other similar competing products. The true success is that when you apply that fragrance, for a period of time at least, you embody the attitude and sophistication and sex appeal of Charlize.

Dior didn’t sell perfume; it sold the feeling of being Charlize.

This is the fundamental difference between product and commodity. Sell the product and you are just another fragrance in an overly saturated market of nice fragrances. But sell the feeling you are uniquely special when you use that product and you are selling self-confidence, which is infinitely more valuable.

As visualisation artists our involvement in projects can sometimes exist at the unfriendly end of a ‘time versus pressure’ arc for our clients. With bid deadlines, planning submissions or crucial funding to acquire, it can be very easy to allow some of the critical stages of the briefing process to be overlooked in the pursuit of creating a product which serves a specific purpose. Part of our role as consultants is to be the dress made from razor blades, breaking down client preconceptions about what makes a good visual, and how best to go about generating conversations about what our clients hope to achieve. The endlessly invigorating Simon Sinek talks about this in a leadership capacity in Start with Why, but the same ideology of trying to understand the importance of why we do things runs parallel to every design industry. When you take a step back and re-frame the conversation about the purpose of visualisation to one that talks about experiencing a sense of place, you open up the opportunity of invoking captivating thoughts of what it might smell like to stand in a public park just after a summer rain, or the comfort of a warm interior against the backdrop of a cold winter sky for example. These are human responses that can be triggered through careful presentation of colour, light, and subject matter.

Talchan Distillery, Float

When passing the emotional baton of an unaided first impression, it’s important that we assist our clients in navigating preconceptions in order to steer a visualisation towards a successful outcome. This is more difficult if the first port of call is to talk about predetermined camera angles, or what software we use to create the visual or whether, or not it’s possible to get three visuals for the price of two. This is the talk of product when really the talk should be of commodity. When the success of the visual is so dependent on the emotion invoked by it then the connection with the intended audience and the emotional outcome must be the start of every conversation we have. Perhaps Christian Dior himself put it best when he said “Happiness is the secret to all beauty. There is no beauty without happiness”. 

Andy Pennington is a visualisation artist of 20 years and the director of Float, a company specialising in producing CGI for design industries. You can follow Float on Instagram Twitter and Facebook, as well as online at

#visualisation #vizualisation #design #fashion #architecture #interiordesign #urbandesign #startwithwhy #simonsinek #cgi #concept