It is a celebrity showdown of the most glamorous kind. In the red corner: Jennifer Aniston, 46, measuring in at 164 centimetres. In the gold corner: the reigning Queen of the Skies, 180cm tall, 48-year-old Nicole Kidman.
And the arena for this Hollywood knockout match? The airspace above the UAE.
In case you missed it, Aniston has been unveiled as the new face of Emirates Airline, in a deal reportedly worth US$5 million (Dh18 million).
But it’s impossible to consider the Dubai airline’s announcement without viewing it in the slipstream of Etihad Airways’ recruitment of Nicole Kidman as its brand ambassador, a move announced by the Abu Dhabi airline in March.
Kidman brought an elegant, steely gravity to her role. The Academy Award-winner is a serious actress known for her dramatic roles in films such as Cold Mountain, The Interpreter and The Hours, the last of which earned her the Oscar.
The Australian actress has worked with feted auteurs such as Lars von Trier, in Dogville, and Stanley Kubrick, in Eyes Wide Shut alongside ex-husband Tom Cruise.
Her Etihad adverts reflect that on-screen solemnity, with a reserved Kidman sinking into the airline’s trademark luxurious hospitality.
On the surface, she and Aniston have much in common: both enjoy similar levels of fame, are instantly recognisable to millions, are in their late-40s, and boast reported fortunes in excess of $130 million. Both also have ex-husbands who are even more famous than they are, with Aniston formerly married to Brad Pitt.
But for all the similarities, employing Aniston was far from a copycat move – and Emirates will be eager to exploit the differences.
While she is arguably the most successful member of the Friends cast, after several attempts to move into more serious movie fare, including last year’s well-received Cake, her greatest Hollywood hits remain lowbrow romcoms and gross-outs such as Bruce Almighty, The Break-Up, Horrible Bosses and We’re the Millers.
So rather than refined, steely serenity, Emirates has chosen to associate its brand with smiles and fun.
As well as being funny and relatable, one of Aniston’s most endearing qualities is that, despite her fame and wealth, she somehow manages to maintain that “girl next door” charm.
In 2005, neuroscientists claimed to have identified a “Jennifer Aniston neuron” in the brain, which fired only when subjects were shown a picture of the star.
Anil Kumar, the creative director of Dubai advertising agency Watermelon, highlights this quality as one Emirates will be eager to exploit.
“Emirates need a face, a big star, to show the world, and Aniston is very appropriate – people love her, and scientists have actually proved that,” he said.
As much as Emirates will be keen to exploit Aniston’s heart-warming, down-to-earth and approachable qualities, it’s also likely the brand will want to position her in environments beyond aviation.
The brand’s long-running Hello Tomorrow commercial focuses on exotic adventures, not the in-cabin experience. And in addition to marketing the airline, smart placement of Aniston will also help to market Dubai as a tourist destination.
So perhaps we can look forward to heart-melting images of Aniston enjoying downtime in some of the emirate’s most iconic attractions.
“You have to get Aniston to interact,” said Madeleine Butcher, a Dubai-based consultant creative who previously worked for Saatchi & Saatchi and TBWA.
“If the campaign is just a picture of her sitting in business class looking relaxed, you are making a very approachable person into an unapproachable subject – and that doesn’t help anybody.
“Emirates have to use Aniston for who she is – loved as the girl next door because she’s warm and humane. I would get her in off-the-cuff videos, showing the real actress interacting with people unstaged, making her look a lot more natural and a lot less forced, because that’s Aniston’s appeal as an actress.”
Emirates has yet to reveal when we will first see Aniston in adverts in magazines, on the web and on TV.
However the airline is a proud principle sponsor of the Dubai International Film Festival, benefiting from countless high-profile adverts at red carpet screenings.
It therefore seems certain that the airline’s bosses will want to maximise the actress’s appeal in front of a Hollywood-hungry crowd – so expect the campaign to be unveiled before this year’s festival, which begins on December 9.