There, at 3:06. Did you see it? For just a moment, toward the end of the new music video for the Sia song Fire Meets Gasoline, the camera lingers a bit too long on the tag of Heidi Klum’s underwear. "Heidi Klum Intimates," it reads.
That shot was the first clue that the music video was not really a music video, but rather an ad for Klum’s new lingerie line.
The second clue came a few hours after the video was posted online. Apparently fed up with people thinking she had made the video — which was rapidly going viral — Sia sent a rather stern-sounding tweet.
"Fire meet gasoline is not an official music video, nor is it my new single," she wrote. "It's a lingerie commercial to which I licensed a song." Likewise, her publicist began contacting reporters who had written about the video, informing them "Sia was not involved in the shooting of the video."
Not that anyone seems to mind. As of Monday, the video had 10 million views on YouTube, with overwhelmingly favorable ratings. By all indications, the undercover undies commercial is a monster hit.
The sleight of hand was the work of Australian agency Cummins and Partners, which was hired to launch Klum’s lingerie brand around the world "with a challenging budget," said founder Sean Cummins.
"We asked ourselves, what gets watched online? Music videos," he said. "And who’s the most compelling singer at the moment? Sia."
"At the mere utterance of the name, we had a realization: Sia doesn’t like appearing in her own videos," he said.
Klum’s team approached Sia about using her song for the promotion. Given the artist’s blessing, Cummins set about making the closest thing to a legitimate music video it could. The agency hired "Game of Thrones" actor Pedro Pascal to star alongside a scantily clad Klum, and Francesco Carozzini, who has directed videos for Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and Lenny Kravitz, was brought in to direct.
"We let them run off and do what all the parties do best," Cummins said. "Let the music video people do the music video." The agency’s only creative directive was to keep the branding subtle.
The commercial was published to the Vevo platform on April 23 and immediately caught fire online. Given Sia’s habit of obscuring her face in music videos, the artist’s apparent absence from her new one didn’t strike fans as particularly suspicious. Only the lingering shot of the lingerie label was there to raise eyebrows.
At a time when brands are experimenting with branded content to find the proper balance between entertainment and advertising, the video raises important questions of tone and restraint. Can an ad that’s so easily mistaken for a music video, in which most viewers don’t even notice the branding, be considered too subtle? Cummins, for his part, doesn’t think so.
"Heidi Klum is the brand, so I think that’s where you can afford to be restrained," said Cummins. "I don’t think it’s subtle at all."