Equinox Portrays Narcissus as Role Model. Can the End of the World Be Far Behind?

Great marketing efforts are usually fueled by a simple premise. Something that can be grasped in the blink of an eye, yet still able to evoke a shock of personal recognition and a deep affinity for the product or service being advertised.

Maybe something like this: The harder we work to improve ourselves, the more we can give back to society and make the world a better place.

That may have been the guiding strategy of the creative brief for the new, outrageous and baffling ad from Equinox, featuring the mythological character Narcissus. Rather than the usual cautionary tale of the dangers of self-absorption, Equinox agency Droga5 has turned him into a 21st century role model.

Give Droga5 credit for this imaginative provocation. They’ve made a hero of someone we are never, ever supposed to emulate.

In this new take, Narcissus moves beyond obsessive love for his own reflection to eat right, work out, and use his beauty and newfound strength to help the infirm, educate the masses and comfort a world that is as desperately attracted to him as he is to himself.

“(His) self-worship turned into a gift – a gift not just for him to treasure, but a gift that brought the whole world pleasure.”

Whether or not this ad ultimately succeeds, it’s deeply disturbing work that punctuates of a civilization in deep decline.

There’s a game I like to play with my graduate students that I call “What’s the Insight.” I show them an ad and encourage them to think like strategists. What direction was given to the creative team? How is this ad supposed to make you feel? What action are you meant to take as a result?

What’s the insight for this ad? I would love to see the creative brief, which I suspect was very close to what I put forth earlier. That is, something along the lines that a better you translates to a better world, so get your butt to the gym and start working out. Maybe the creatives might have found this “boring” and felt the need to work their magic. I don’t mean to shock anyone here, but it might just be that the agency creatives were narcissists themselves. Imagine that! Narcissists in agency creative departments who say screw the strategy, let’s take some liberties and make this all about us. After all, we don’t want the world to see the client’s reflection, we want them to look at the ad and see us. The imperative of selling memberships is for our clients is dwarfed in comparison to the need for us to win awards and travel to Cannes.

They concoct a Grace Jones-type schoolteacher/museum guide who speaks in rapturous, hypnotic tones to impeccably dressed, perfect in every way grade school children who listen with wide-eyed awe. And they’ll all dance in celebration of themselves at the end, each in their own quirky, inimitable style. Yes, self-absorption will set you free!

The more troubling possibility is that the ad is a perfect reflection of a different strategy. Don’t be like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Abe Lincoln, who worked hard in the service of others while understanding that they needed to be at their best to do so. No, be more like Donald Trump and make it all about yourself. Let’s be superficial and look as good as we can. If we attract other people and are able to help them in any way, that’s fine. Still, our efforts are far more for our pleasure than theirs.

There’s no community in this world, only cult of personality. No institutions, no common cause. My family, neighborhood, city, state and country will never be as important as my personal needs. Is staring at social media and addiction to our devices to ward off dreaded FOMO disease any different than staring at our own reflection? After all, what is social media but the delusion that people actually give a shit about me?

What can be done? I don’t know and I don’t want to think about it. Too painful and too much work. Just be sure to like this post, send it to your friends and follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.


  • Freddy Tran Nager
    Posted at 15:50h, 13 January Reply

    Wow. Just wow. I love Droga5’s work, so I was ready to give this the benefit of the doubt. Then my jaw hit the floor so hard it cracked the tile… Part of me thinks (hopes) this ad is a subversive dig at the client, an SNL sketch saying, “Equinox is the epitome of narcissism. Let’s bring their god to life and be self-indulgent at the same time. They’ll think it’s genius.” Perhaps the client came up with this god-awful (pun intended) idea, and the agency creatives just made a mockery of it. In any case, it’s a terrible ad. (Now watch some apologist say, “But you’re talking about it, and look at all the publicity it got, so it worked, right?”)

  • Jean-Pierre Lacroix
    Posted at 02:14h, 14 January Reply

    Jeff, enjoyed your blog and indeed ads are a deep reflection of our culture and hidden needs. It’s hard to believe the creative ever got approved but then controversy today does cut through the clutter. Unfortunately, a real lack of strategic judgement or…maybe a real mirror view of the emergence of a shallow world.

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