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Smell-o-vision: Why perfume ads stink

Smell-o-vision: Why perfume ads stink
Campaign MagazineWhen I was a kid, I thought smell-o-vision would be the Next Big Thing. Certainly it would be available by the Noughties. (I obviously totally missed predicting the mobile communication revolution. In fairness, I was only eight). How awesome would it be, I thought, to be able to smell whatever they’re talking about! Like totally awesome, dude.

I’ve been thinking more about this in the run up to Christmas, as I’ve seen what feels like hundreds of fragrance ads everywhere I look. It would be so much easier, I think, if they could pump the scent into my home, rather than what they’re doing now. Perhaps it would be more compelling too.

Because, to be honest, I think nearly all fragrance – specifically fine fragrance – advertising stinks.

Of course it’s not easy to communicate something as complex as a smell with visuals or words. I recognise they’re trying to paint personalities with which I should be able to identify, but they’re all so same-y. They run together in my mind. They’ve all got beautiful people writhing singly or in couples. Sometimes they’ve got celebrities writhing. I could name a few of the celebrities. But I couldn’t tell you a single thing about which brand.

There are only two that stand out for me as different from the standard formula. The Sienna Miller one, but I couldn’t tell you the name of the brand without the aid of You Tube. So, that doesn’t do a great job of driving me to the counter to have a sniff because I don’t know what to ask for. And the Lacoste one, which doesn’t show people at all, but does use the funky folding trick I saw a video of once on You Tube.

To be alliterative, you have a problem when Paddy Power pokes fun at your advertising and ends up being more memorable than the originals. And I know I’m not in the target audience for the Paddy Power ad, whereas I’m almost certainly in the target audience for most fine fragrance advertising.

Sometimes I wonder how it is that Lynx – yet another brand for which I’m certainly not in the target audience – manages to do a better job of communicating a desirable scent than most of the fine fragrance brands. These ads have staying power because they tell a story. The personality comes through, but I get it through a story, which makes them all the more memorable. What’s more the brand is the hero, enabling the action of the story.

While they are completely over the top, I don’t think they’re more over the top than the one I saw last night where the blonde woman seems to be rubbing the perfume bottle all over her body. Yeah, I’ve still got no idea what that’s for either.

Tara Beard-Knowland is a Research Director at Ipsos ASI and wrote this blog for Campaign magazine.
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Tara Beard-Knowland
Tara Beard-Knowland