Headshot of Minda Smiley

Mere days into the new year, Equinox might already be taking the cake for the most puzzling ad of 2020.

It should be noted first that pushing the envelope has long been Equinox’s bread and butter (remember the breastfeeding ad that caused quite a stir in 2016?). Even so, the brand’s latest ad is leaving us with more questions than answers.

Created by Droga5 and directed by Floria Sigismondi, the new ad turns the Greek myth of Narcissus on its head by presenting the man who literally fell in love with his own reflection as someone who we should … be grateful for and admire?

As the title of the spot says, his “most selfless act of all” is apparently being a swole bro whom we all have the pleasure of casting our collective gaze upon.

Before we go on, watch the spot for yourself.

Yes, we get that the brand is going for a tongue-in-cheek and, in Equinox’s words, “provocative” approach. Yet it still begs a lot of questions. Why cast children in an ad for an upscale fitness club? Why do the kids appear to be ogling Narcissus the entire time? Who made the decision to have a black woman sing the praises of a white, male egomaniac?

But perhaps the biggest question is: Who exactly is the brand trying to appeal to with this?

According to Equinox chief marketing officer Seth Solomons, the brand’s “Make Yourself a Gift to the World” campaign is targeting individuals who are “dedicated to becoming the very best they can be” in part for the sake of others.

“We believe that when you become the best version of yourself, you radiate outward and contribute more to the world around you. This campaign is not just about being well physically; it’s a total, holistic proposition and a concept that resonates with the Equinox community,” he told Adweek, citing a recent survey that found that 75% of respondents agreed that they are able to be a better friend, spouse and partner when they focus on being their best self.

Solomons added that since kids represent the next generation, the brand wanted to include them “in this potential life lesson that practicing self-love can be the most selfless act of all and worthy of celebration.”

"As a team it gave us all something to turn upside down—with a character and a common story to subvert. The tone of the work is deliberately over-the-top to deliver this provocation with a bit of a wink."
—Toby Treyer-Evans, group creative director, Droga5

As for how the brand landed on toying with the story of Narcissus, Droga5 group creative directors Laurie Howell and Toby Treyer-Evans said they were trying to reframe a pursuit that might seem self-centered as a selfless act that benefits others.

“Narcissus is the wellspring of fabled self-obsession, so it felt like it would be fun to take this old myth and play with it. What if the Greeks had gotten this one wrong?” Howell said. “With all we know now, maybe self-love isn’t such a bad thing?”

Treyer-Evans said it gave them “something to turn upside down—with a character and a common story to subvert. The tone of the work is deliberately over-the-top to deliver this provocation with a bit of a wink.”

In addition to the spot, the campaign includes a series of print ads that run with the “Make Yourself a Gift to the World” concept. The photos were shot by fashion photographer Glen Luchford.

Minda Smiley is a staff writer for Adweek covering agencies.