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Smells Like Good Branding: Perfume Ads and The Senses.


Luxury perfume ads are an interesting breed. They are always slow and sultry, and often times ridiculously abstract – there are the ones with some young supermodel in a long flowy dress running up a winding staircase, or the one with the rugged A-list actor in a bespoke suit running towards a helicopter.

They are unapologetically generic and predictable, yet they are oh so captivating.

It is a hefty task to sell a product that can only be experienced through the sense of smell. And unlike food, you can’t really visualize a perfume scent.

You can show me an image of a burger and I would be able to imagine both the scent and flavor. But if you showed me a bottle of perfume, I’d have nothing to go on except the packaging of the perfume alone. Hence why perfume ads need to sell more than just the product itself.

An analysis of 264 perfume ads found that only one (for Juicy Couture) makes a direct reference to the sense of smell (the headline was “Smell me!”). Fewer than half a dozen others hint directly at their olfactory ingredients.

So what do advertisers rely on to overcome the problem of olfactory perception?

Author and advertiser, Brian Moeran, calls it the ‘Colours of Smell’.  Perfume advertising relies on stimulating other senses other than the sense of smell. This can be seen in Calvin Klein’s ‘Beauty’ tagline: “It touches everything”, or Donna Karen’s ‘Cashmere Mist’ tagline:  “A fragrance to seduce the senses.”

This totally explains the excessive sensuality and the predictable senses they seek to evoke in all these ads. And of course, when you play with the senses, you automatically toy with emotions. So ultimately, we fall in the realm of ESP – emotional selling proposition.

So in good Bullet fashion, we’ve categorized some perfume ads into the four other senses besides smell. Of course, as audiovisual items should be, all senses will be used (other than smell) – but the ads listed below are ones with an unmistakable focus on a particular sense.

The Touch

This simple yet effective ad by Marc Jacobs for their ‘Daisy’ fragrance is all about the sense of touch. You can almost feel the soft ends of the tall grass graze gently over your fingertips.  And the moment she lies on that tuft of grass, it’s like you’re there with her.

The Sight

In this Marc Jacobs  ‘Daisy Dream’ commercial directed by Sofia the sense of sight is explored extensively. Each scene is visually rich and enticing – the eyes are treated to double exposures, skipping images, foreground blurs, zoom-ins and zoom-outs, fish-eye lenses, tilt shifts, YOU NAME IT! They even threw in fireworks in there for good measure.

The Audial

This whole Chanel ‘No5’ campaign was lead by Lo-Fang’s musical reinterpretation of the classic “You’re The One That I Want” off the movie ‘Grease’. The story, the emotion and the heart of this perfume epic starring Gisele Bündchen revolves around the melodramatic tune of the song.

The Taste

The sense of taste was subtly evoked in this Dior Homme Parfum commercial through delicate focus on the mouth and lips. From the opening cigarette scene, the long kisses, all the way to that subtle fork in the mouth by the leading lady, a big portion of this ad emphasizes on the palate.

Often times, perfume ads amalgamate all these senses into a single sensory treat of a commercial unsurprisingly themed around glamorous or adventurous lifestyles. And when you allow your sense to be kindled, it conjures all forms of emotions, and hence, a tendency towards romance.

So I leave you with a final masterpiece of a perfume ad that takes all your senses on an exciting journey imbued with love and lust, all the way to Istanbul. This is “Train De Nuit” by Chanel ‘No. 5’.

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