Johnny Depp’s Disturbing ‘Sauvage’ Ads
Johnny Depp is driving through the dessert, single-minded and a little bit unhinged. He recklessly slams the brakes, careening his car into the desert. He gets out and pulls a shovel out of his trunk. This may sound like an explosive TMZ video, but it’s actually an ad for Dior’s hyper-masculine fragrance, Sauvage (the French word for “wild”). In his most ill-advised performance since Tonto, the alleged abuser has become the ubiquitous face of a product whose tagline boasts “wild at heart.” TVs, stores, and fashion magazines have been flooded with images of a goateed Depp staring into the distance and rolling up his shirt, knuckles adorned with heavy metal rings. In any context, this combination of facial hair and single hoop earring would be suspect. But given the campaign’s proximity to Amber Heard’s claims of domestic abuse, Dior’s Sauvage takes on a whole new level of meaning.
Like a particularly strong top note, the memory of Heard’s allegations against Depp linger, rendering Dior’s silly, hyper-masculine ad strangely sinister. The problem isn’t with the campaign itself—as stupid as “wild at heart” may sound to some of us, cologne ads often pander to consumers’ inner cavemen. The notion that smearing synthetic scent on their pulse points will somehow make users manly, buff, and irresistible to the opposite sex isn’t what’s off about this campaign. What’s disturbing about Depp’s ads is the inadvertent marriage of virility and violence, with an alleged domestic abuser playing the role of “real man.” If Heard’s allegations are true, then Depp’s “wildness” should be anything but aspirational.
Depp’s fragrance gig is in direct contrast to Heard’s recent intimate partner violence PSA. While Depp is collecting easy money off of a truly ill-timed ad campaign, Heard appears to be turning personal trauma into meaningful activism, using the platform of her celebrity to directly discuss domestic abuse.
In the new PSA for the GirlGaze Project, the actress spoke about the difficulty of extricating oneself from an abusive relationship, explaining, “When it happens in your home, behind closed doors, with someone you love, it’s not as straightforward. If a stranger did this…it would be a no-brainer.” Without uttering Depp’s name, Heard makes it clear that she’s speaking from a place of personal experience, insisting, “I have a unique opportunity to remind other women… this doesn’t have to be the way it is. You don’t have to do it alone. You’re not alone.”
Holding back tears, Heard urges fellow survivors to come forward with their stories, if only to a family member or friend. Of course, Heard’s experience has been a uniquely public one, played out over tabloids and increasingly fraught court proceedings.
In late May, Heard filed for divorce from her movie star husband of 18 months, citing irreconcilable differences. Shortly after the divorce news went public, People magazine published photos of a bruised Heard—injuries she claimed were a result of Depp’s physical abuse. An alarming video of Depp fighting with Heard was also leaked to the press, with Depp’s team arguing that the footage was “heavily edited.” In court documents, Heard alleged: “I endured excessive emotional, verbal and physical abuse from Johnny, which has included angry hostile, humiliating and threatening assaults to me whenever I questioned his authority or disagreed with him.”
Depp’s representatives, meanwhile, issued the following statement about the abuse allegations: “Given the brevity of this marriage and the most recent and tragic loss of his mother, Johnny will not respond to any of the salacious false stories, gossip, misinformation and lies about his personal life.”
Unfortunately, the hostility and humiliation continued for Heard, who was routinely victim-blamed online and in the tabloids. Depp’s famous friends swore that Heard was a greedy liar. Facts that were in no way relevant to the case, like Heard’s bisexuality, were used as justification for Depp’s jealousy and his alleged abuse. By the time Heard and Depp reached a divorce settlement in August, both of their reputations had suffered. Heard pledged to donate the entirety of her $7 million settlement to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and the ACLU, “with a particular focus to stop violence against women.” Despite reports to the contrary, she plans to follow through on that multimillion-dollar commitment.
Heard’s divorce filing and abuse allegations essentially coincided with Dior’s heavy promotion of Sauvage. Images of Depp menacingly rolling up his sleeves flooded magazines and TV screens back when Heard’s bruised face was still top trending celebrity news. Naturally, customers didn’t take too kindly to this series of unfortunate optics. Down under, the Australian Advertising Standards Bureau reported that they received multiple complaints about the Sauvage posters that had been plastered around Sydney and Melbourne. UK-based domestic violence charity Women’s Aid called on Dior to stop working with the celebrity. A spokesperson for the domestic abuse treatment center Safe Horizon also noted that, “Because of the allegations that are out there against him, (the ad) may be a trigger to domestic violence survivors,” sending the potent message that employers and society at large condone their abusers’ actions.
Having picked the most inappropriate face for their wild and reckless fragrance, Dior seems unwilling to change the course of their campaign. It’s yet another example of how serious allegations of abuse and assault are treated as minor career hurdles for white male celebrities. Considering the fact that a freshly accused Depp wasn’t sacked from this highly insensitive Sauvage campaign, it stands to reason that Heard’s allegations won’t affect the actor’s continued employment. If nothing else, it would be nice if Heard’s PSA was as ubiquitous as her ex-husband’s fragrance campaign—a reminder that even if Depp has been forgiven by his employers, Amber Heard’s story hasn’t been forgotten.