Ad Report Card

The Case for Samsonite

An ad that sells luggage without carrying on.

Samsonite scores The Spot: A blond woman wheels a bright red suitcase through an airport terminal, then down the bustling sidewalks of a foreign city. Man, does she look like she’s having fun. She even gets her own catchy theme song. “Samsonite Spinners,” says the voiceover. “Four wheels. Zero effort.”

Ad Report Card tends to pay attention to the outliers—those spots that grab our attention with mesmerizing cheesiness (the woman), miscast celebrity (Bob Dylan for Victoria’s Secret), or baffling derangement (the Quiznos spongmonkeys). It’s good to remember sometimes that an ad can get the job done without getting overly weird.

Take, for instance, this Samsonite spot. Not too flashy. Quietly effective. You’ll find no celebrities here, no outrageous sight gags, no insane non sequiturs. Instead, this ad employs an even more shocking stratagem: It focuses on the product. That lipstick-red Samsonite suitcase sits in the center of the frame for most of the ad. Even more old-school: The spot actually plays up the product’s attributes. This suitcase has an extra set of wheels that lets it spin around for better maneuverability. We see the luggage in action, so we instantly understand why this innovation matters. It’s a key selling point, and it’s properly front and center.

Maybe it’s because I’ve checked out my fair share of suitcases, but I also noticed a bold shift in tone for Samsonite. I’ve always considered it a staid, clunky, middle-of-the-road kind of brand. The Buick of luggage. Suddenly it’s throwing jazzy world-beat tunes at us?

Samsonite’s global brand director, Dan Liu, confirmed that this spot is an effort to freshen up the brand. Samsonite’s the category leader in luggage, but (especially compared to competitors such as Tumi) it was getting a tad musty. Cue the hipness infusion.

Samsonite hired a French director who used lots of handheld shots for an energetic feel. (For the street scenes, he hoisted the camera on his own shoulder and waded through the crowds.) They hired a museum-quality blonde to serve as an attractive accessory to the suitcase. They found a pair of offbeat, arresting locations: an airport in Belgium (is anything sleeker than the public spaces in Benelux countries?) and the streets of Caracas, Venezuela.

Most important, they hired Belgian composer Fritz Sundermann and commissioned a fantastic piece of original music. Sundermann put together a Brazilian-inflected pop track with some vocals from famed chanteuse Isabelle Antena. Samsonite didn’t want lyrics to distract from the visuals, so Antena just scats her way around the catchy melody. Each time I see the ad, this tune infects my brain for hours. It’s like the Astrud Gilberto hit that never was.

Impressively, Samsonite achieves its hipness goal here while avoiding easy hucksterism. The ad doesn’t proclaim how hip Samsonite is (by, say, featuring some currently trendy celebrity— à la Adrien Brody for Diet Coke). Nor does it go for wild, out-there imagery that’s “edgy” (à la the terrifyingly gothic Nike spot with the masks). Instead, it gets hip the old fashioned way—with worldly and sophisticated music, cinematography, casting, and settings.

I also love that the suitcase is red. It’s a splash of color that draws our attention straight to the product. (And it reminds me of a childhood favorite—The Red Balloon.) When I asked Liu about it, he said the color was not only an eye-grabber, but a branding move. Currently, 65 percent of Samsonite’s customers are men. The brand has long been successful with heavy-traveling businessmen who need a “black box” suitcase for the road. The company is desperate for more female buyers and more leisure-travel buyers. Thus they cast both a woman and a colorful, non-business-looking piece of luggage. Samsonite would like to be associated not just with functionality, but also with fun and fashion and style. I’d say they’re not there yet, but this ad is a step in the right direction.

Grade: A-. Doesn’t this spot make travel look easy? Here I am in the airport and then, whoosh, here I am in Caracas! All smoothed out by some cool, Brazilian bossa.

Liu points out that previous Samsonite ads would show the luggage overcoming difficult obstacles (in a typical ad, a suitcase would get stomped by an elephant, but survive). In this ad, by contrast, there are no obstacles. The woman wheels her suitcase jauntily from continent to continent—happy, unruffled, serene. At a time when travel is full of hassles (please remove your belt and shoes), carefree transport is an extremely appealing fantasy. Every bit as elusive as the buxom hotties in ads for beer.