Youtube can be a dangerous place late at night, especially if (like me) you’re prone to getting sucked into cute cat videos for ungodly amounts of time. My most recent lapse of gazing into the abyss of online videos lead me to some interesting points of contemplation regarding adverts, specifically those for perfumes. Because the featured product can only be consumed through olfactory senses, the strategies of selling these items are distinct in that they feature visual sequences meant to trigger the desire to smell like the images pictured in the advertisement. This round about way of capturing the consumer’s desire is intriguing to me because it’s so indirect; colors are used to communicate scent, movement and action corresponds to personal identity, and the chosen music seems to communicate the promise of heightened experience as a result of smelling like the product. Because what is being sold is ultimately invisible, the corresponding adverts are often rather captivating and artistic. What I noticed most of all during my viewing binge of perfume ads is that there seem to be a few archetypes of smell, that which advertising executives decide the consumer wants to relay through the scent of their own bodies.
I think the first one can be summarized as joie de vivre (Miss Dior Cherie)
This seems to promise a life of perfect disheveled luxury, and an air of perpetual carefree beauty. Not a whole lot of mystery or overt sexuality, but it’s certainly engaging. Many people no doubt want to smell like they live in Paris and spend their days gazing at amusing and beautiful things.
Next we have the scent of rebellious androgyny (Gaultier Madame)
The message here seems to be that with a splash of Gaultier’s magic water you can chop off your hair, destroy your clothes, and still look amazing. Because you smell amazing. Truth be told, if a perfume could actually make me look good with short hair I would wear it.
This perfume has been around forever, and evidently smells like popular idealists (CK One)
CK One will apparently make you smell so good that all of your friends will turn into models as well. And then everyone will make out.
Now we come to my favorite archetype, the femme fatal (YSL, Parisienne)
Kate Moss will always be glorious in my eyes – naysayers, I don’t want to hear it. She’s fabulous. Add in some Depeche Mode, a bunch of roses, and the sunrise, and you’ve got me. Apparently the team at YSL has me in their subliminal clutches.
Unfortunately for the companies that spend buckets of money trying to successfully communicate about their invisible product, sometimes the elements just don’t come together as planned (or perhaps the creative director suffered from a mild concussion the day of the shoot). It should be noted that no amount of mixed metaphors can save a tragically ill conceived perfume ad. Behold:
I don’t know what the team for Coco by Chanel was thinking, but I know I don’t want to smell like that.