Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Perfume advertising stinks...

There are just some things I just don’t understand. My abhorrence of blue cheese, broccoli and grime  music is down to personal taste. I can even see the point of sportswear (comfy I suppose) and keeping cats (some people find scratchy sour-faced things cute, I find squishy wiggly pugs cute: each to their own) but some things I find incomprehensible.
Is she about to throw up? might explain her wan frame...
One is perfume advertising. Now I am surely within the marketeers demographic. I am female, older and single. This means that I have disposable income and am perhaps more likely to be interested in scent than younger sisters who are battling with families and children.  Perhaps not for the younger ‘fashion’ scents but possibly for the more established perfume and fashion houses. So why is their advertising so completely unappealing? Or is it really just me being weird: after all they must work or these major corporations wouldn’t bother parting with huge amounts of cash to fund them?

The ad campaigns seem to fall into two distinctive camps. The first is the monochrome or near monochrome film. It features women who look like junkies, half-dead but not in a good vampire way, nothing predatory or passionate here. It all started off with that dumb Obsession advertisement. The models have sharp cheekbones and blackened eyes. The look is more sex-worker smuggled to work in Dalston massage parlour than glamorous young thing.  What would that smell like? formica, KY jelly and burnt tin foil? It is supposed to be sexy because the model will be frolicking with some skinny young man with a square jaw and bum fluff who looks like he has bunked off public school for the weekend and smoked too much skunk. What would a romance with him smell like? damp polo shirt, sweat and cheap woodpecker cider? Nice.
She looks sweaty, grubby and I suspect she's been throwing up in a basin too...

There is nothing forbidden about this genre of advertising, it is about alluring as a changing room at Primark.  The foreign sounding voice with the accent from nowhere, usually muttering the name of the perfume with pronounced disinterest is almost as funny as Kate Moss sounding like a female navvy muttering 'gertcha lunnun luk'.  Have Kraftwerk developed a mental disorder? is Karl Lagerfeld moonlighting on mogodons? is that female so stupid she can only mutter single words?  I can spot the European art films that they are trying to pastiche but it isn’t working and in any case I don’t think I want a bottle of Eau de Nightporter, a spritz of Ingmar Bergman or a Lars von Trier facial wash. Actually strike that, I will try the Lars von Trier facial wash...
Personally I have always wondered how on earth this style has survived the Fry and Laurie piss-take of the genre: 'Pretention'.

The other type of advertisement is the ‘she is woman’ variety. A model or more usually an actress strides or lounges around looking fantastic and different from everyone else. She is supposedly memorable because she is wearing a fragrance that several million other women are buying. Sometimes they take their clothing off, hinting at Marilyn Monroe’s idea that this is all you need wear. Monroe could get away with this, but I find all this semi-nakedness off-putting and in the case of some of the actresses involved just tarty and exploitative. If she is so different why get her kit off? Might work if I was a Sapphic type I suppose but I suspect this is not the advertisers intended audience. Maybe they are targeting the men who buy their wives and girlfriends perfume? but women tell men what scent to buy. You have to because of the huge variation in the way perfumes smell on different skins. Even when the men are buying the women are choosing, and lots of us buy our own thank you very much. It is noticeable when looking at vintage advertisements of fashion house scents the elegant clothes and environs are part of the deal, not a view of some actresses arse.

Charlize getting her kit off.

I suspect a bit of old fashioned sexist lewdness (nowt wrong with that) but frankly speaking an elegantly dressed well groomed woman who has achieved more than just looking good naked would sell to me, give me Audrey Hepburn in a dress not Sophie Dahl in the buff. This celebrity endorsement at least makes more sense I suppose in a celeb- bsessed world. The problem is that it is just an upmarket version of Katie Price flogging ‘Chastity’ or whatever her new scent is. I don’t want to smell like Charlize Thingy any more than I want to smell like Victoria Beckham. Famous women encapsulating scents backfires on me as does the use of stupid epithets with dodgy grammar. 
This might sell me her bra....
For me the Chanel campaigns are most effective despite using actresses. I would never want to look like Keira Knightley or Nicole Kidman. Natalie Portman or Audrey Tatou: too fey and sparrow-like for my taste so I don’t have the urge to smell like them. But the Chanel agencies choose good music and try and create an atmospheric back-story and a fantastical environment for their scents. I might actually want to be involved in a dalliance on the Orient Express, associating the scent with luxury and romance has got to be good and the fact that Audrey Tatou has played Coco Chanel makes the campaign clever. I loved the one with Nina Simone singing ‘My Baby just cares for me’ with the aeroplane flying overhead, years ago but I still remember it. Sadly most Chanel perfumes do nothing for me, but I am inclined to try their rare new scents when they appear and happily buy it for friends and family.

Scent is a fugitive thing, it does not smell the same to any two of us yet it has the power to evoke strong images, memories and ideas. I always feel that the designers of perfume bottles do a wonderful job and the perfume creators work hard just to be finally advertised and encapsulated by a sticky looking pre-pubescent with lank hair sulking as if someone has confiscated her blackberry. Certainly my preoccupations with scent are smell, dressing table appeal and imagery. I love old style glamour and want this reflected in what is a luxury product. I’d buy and try more if the advertising didn’t seriously compromise my interest in buying the stuff. But these campaigns must work, so it must just be me. I am steadily coming to believe  however that it is not just Marks and Spencer which  has deserved a slap on the wrists for ignoring the market of adult women who have most spending power in the economy. Scent is sold to us in a childish, infantile manner just like everything else, yet it is a grown-up product.

Just for the record however, Redlegs favours Guerlaine and Marc Jacobs scents should anyone care to buy me some! xxx


Miss Matilda said...

As usual, I enjoyed reading your blog.

It makes me wonder how Dita will market her new perfume?

I wear Fracas and have never ever seen an ad for it, enough said....

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

What a wonderfully insightful, and amusing, post into the world of advertising with particular reference to that of perfume. It is, as you say here, extraordinary how the female models, usually semi naked, are all so very similar, flaunting the same poses and if accompanied, then it is possible to guarantee that it will be by some rather vapid youth doubtless heralding straight from a minor public school via Drama College.

Black and white imagery most likely has more allure than colour of which, perhaps, we are fully saturated.

Penny Dreadful Vintage said...

I am becoming increasingly fussy about my scents, and find that fragrances with this sort of advertising are usually very boring anyway. I don't think they are marketed to appeal to 'older' women, they are for younger women who still give a crap about wanting to look like actresses. My fave new perfume house is L'Artisan du Parfumeur, and I don't think they do any advertising at all x

Straight Talking Mama! said...

Such a great blog post. You are certainly not alone I agree wholeheartedly, although from the start I was thinking I like Chanel's advertising so it's nice to see you do too.

I've been a lover of Chanel No 5 for many years now, and don't venture off much, I do try others at perfume counters, but I rarely find anything that really appeals. I'm sure there is something out there I would love apart from No 5 but I haven't found it yet, and advertising certainly wouldn't convince me!

Lenora Jane said...

I also wear Marc Jacobs! Lola, though honestly I first bought it in an airport duty-free because of the bottle. Big, garishly bright plastic flowers...mmm...the fact that I love the scent now? There's something about icing and cakes that comes to mind.

I guess that is another facet of marketing? But it worked on me I suppose.

I too don't really think the naked-Sophie-Dahl marketing is aimed at older women; what it seems like to me is an attempt at making younger women think that's what sophistication entails? We are so used to the naked-ladies-everywhere thing that it's the context of the nudity--which to someone my age and stupid is supposed to be glamorous? I guess?--that is meant to imply sophistication and class?

Your point about the elegance and style that comes along with a clothed lady of other virtues! rather than a naked lady of mostly naked virtues, is completely right: my first response here was terrifyingly to wonder whether we've gotten to the point in mainstream media (especially advertising, etc) where "sexy" and "clothed" aren't allowed to be the same thing? Am I way off base? (And if I'm not about how long before civilization collapses?)

As for the fake-art-film-but-they're-all-on-heroin-and-also-sex-slaves-or-maybe-just-New-York-prep-school-girls-sweet-Jesus-how-is-this-all-one-description thing: yeah, goodness knows.

LollyWillowes said...

I think this is a very good point, I hate advertising full stop and it most definitely does not work on me. But if I was going to be swayed it wouldn't be by this tiresome rot. Something to do with old fashioned glamour and sophistication might though. Creating a scene from the past, with wonderful props and clothes, set the mood etc, and for preference some intelligent looking women, maybe even reading a book....shock, horror....instead of looking vacuous, exploited and ill.

I occasionally wear Karma, by Lush, it's the only thing that does not smell horrible to me or on me. I think I must have something wrong with my sense of smell and my skin, almost all scent smells awful to me.
I like the idea of it and sometimes will have a sniff around the perfume counters when wasting time in town, but I can't find anything that doesn't make me gag.

I love scents in their natural state, rose, violet and honeysuckle for instance, but they never smell the same when synthesised. I'd love to find some that I could wear but it seems a fruitless search now. I don't live near anywhere that has much choice either, so the bigger or rarer names are out for me to sample.

LandGirl1980 said...

Applause Applause!!! And a bit of whole hearted laughter from me at my desk of a lunch hour... "What would that smell like? formica, KY jelly and burnt tin foil?" INSPIRED.

I have to say - I am never attracted to perfumes for anything other than smell. And, despite looking for new ones because I feel I "have" to - I always come back to the same ones.

I do - however love the CNo5 ad with Audrey Wasserchops. I think mainly for her outfit at the end.

eula_w said...

Hey, this is pretty good stuff! Although this is my first visit here, I find your blog and your posts very insightful. Keep up the good work! :)

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