Naomi Watts will wear a gown by Prudential Financial to Cannes

Like a rock.
Like a rock.
Image: Reuters/Mike Blake
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

By now, most of us are familiar with the inevitable question that reporters ask on the red carpet: “Who are you wearing?” Generally speaking, the answer that trips from celebrities’ lips is a luxury label such as Prada, Chanel, or Balenciaga.

But tonight at the Cannes Film Festival—where Hollywood titans, French starlets, and international players are currently mingling in the south of France—the actress Naomi Watts (who wore Calvin Klein Collection to the Oscars in March) might answer “Prudential Financial.”

The gown that Watts plans to wear to a premiere and dinner in Cannes tonight was created by Francesca Azzara, a retired realtor cast as part of a marketing campaign that Prudential hopes will go viral. Droga5, the advertising agency that dreamed up the concept, recruited the designers Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig of the fashion label Marchesa to help make it happen.

Chapman and Craig, no strangers to the power of the red carpet, have built their own business on celebrity dressing. (Watts wore Marchesa to Cannes in 2012.) Prudential tapped Azzara, a comfortably off 61-year-old, to work with Marchesa to design a dress for Watts, 45. And the company documented the design process as part of “Chapter Two,” a campaign showcasing retirees who planned financially for their futures, and now have the resources to pursue their dreams.

For decades now, designers have used red carpets and the celebrities who populate them as selling platforms. Social media circuses such as fashion weeks and awards shows are increasingly rife with brands handing out free swag as promotions for their products. And it seems to be working: Bloomberg reported yesterday that red-carpet-related sales remain a bright spot for shoe designers during an otherwise sluggish season.

So it stands to reason that service providers too, would want in on the red-carpet product placement game. But how to do it? Canvas Prudential tote bags aren’t going to cut it at Cannes. ”As a company that has intangible products and services, it’s hard to do product placement,” explains Colin McConnell, vice president and head of advertising at Prudential, in an interview with Quartz. “The product itself is actually your wellbeing.”

The answer, it seems, is to personify an idea—in this case, with the retiree and the actress who will wear her dress. Watts, the Wall Street Journal reported, got “caught up in the emotional side of the story of a retiree who wants to connect with her dreams.” Although Watts is being compensated for the endeavor, McConnell says, she’s not a spokesperson. “We’re not asking her to carry a message for Prudential,” he said. “Her job is to wear a gown and wear it proudly.”

Judging by the video online, the gown in question appears to be slate blue, with some beading on the front and back—which Watts reportedly asked to have lowered a bit.