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Andrew Boulton is a copywriter with a decade of scribbling experience at places like Egg the online bank, some top agencies in the Midlands and once for a man who carved dolphins out of cheese. He...

... was nominated for the Professional Publishers Association Award for Business Media Columnist of the Year despite having little or no grasp of the semi colon. He has decent hair but a disappointing beard. You can follow him on Twitter @Boultini.

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14 January 2013 - 9:43am | posted by | 13 comments

You stink: are we all fed up with pretentious perfume ads?

'The first rule of terrible advert club...''The first rule of terrible advert club...'

There were one or two things over the Christmas period that made me want to tear out my own eyeballs and replace them with Scrabble tiles.

One was the agonisingly dull ‘Snowman and the Snowdog’, probably the only piece of televisual entertainment that would have actually been improved by the reappearance of David Bowie ‘acting’.

And the other was the pretentious and often peculiar fragrance ads that oozed all over our festive viewing like the slushy remains of a dead snowman (yes children, the Snowman is dead. David Bowie killed him.)

Brad Pitt’s Chanel ad was essentially an incredibly handsome man talking utter nonsense. No mention of anything to do with smelling, although given which bodily orifice the Chanel people must have their heads stuck up, i’d imagine it was a subject they wished to steer clear of.

Scarlett Johansson’s Dolce & Gabanna ad was little better and induced in me a cringe so enormous I actually gave myself cramp in my face. Never happened before.

Shall I go on? Serena from Gossip Girl (I don’t know her name) prancing aimlessly around for Gucci, Charlize Theron faffing around in an incredibly ghoulish sequence with several dead actresses for Dior.

These dreadful, and frankly baffling, ads left me staring at a big, furious (albeit pleasant smelling) elephant in the room. Do these ads even work?

Does the sight of a celebrity you know and admire performing like a dancing baboon in an incomprehensible pool of yellow snowman, convince an audience that a certain fragrance is desirable?

Does the sight of the bloke from ‘Seven’ spouting insensible gobbledegook somehow portray a brand as enigmatic, bold, unconventional? Good job Kevin Spacey’s character from ‘Seven’ didn’t see it, or Bradley’s beautiful head would be joining Gwyneth’s in ‘the box’. Oh by the way, retro-spoiler alert.

Are these ads just the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ in which we are being told so frequently how daring and original these adverts are, we’re too afraid to point out just how enormously self-important they tend to be.

But this formula of famous face, plus pseudo-avant-garde art direction, is a tried and tested formula for the designer fragrance brands that they seem entirely unwilling to abandon.

How refreshing it would be for one of them to take a completely different route from this wearying path. Imagine if Chanel’s next big budget Christmas ad was simple, engaging and accessible.

Instead I’m quite sure it’ll end up being something like Ryan Gosling arm wrestling a robot Jesus on the back of a giant space dolphin. Probably.

But until they sort their act out and stop treating their audience with such condescending disdain I fully intend to boycott all fragrances. My stench tells these devils that I will not be bought by the promise of a movie star saying and doing things I don’t quite understand.

Although, if the Gosling-Jesus-Space ad does come true, I might cave in like a disappointing Snowdog.


Andrew Boulton is a copywriter at the Together Agency. He actually smells rather nice. He does. He really does.


14 Jan 2013 - 10:51
Ciara McVeigh's picture

Absolutely agree with the inanity of these perfume ads (from companies which have limitless ad budgets) but cannot agree with your denigration of the little Snowdog and his adorable sock ears. Cannot.

14 Jan 2013 - 11:03
andrewboulton's picture

Then I take it back about the Snowdog Ciara. (Aside: I don't) (Aside: I hope he gets eaten by a bear. Not even a Snow bear. A proper bear.)

14 Jan 2013 - 12:09
Ciara McVeigh's picture

You are cold sir. Colder than a little dog with socks for ears @andrewboulton

14 Jan 2013 - 11:33
susan10924's picture

Fragrance and Marketing go hand in hand. Unfortunately it does result in some dull, same old, same old advertising. I have worked as a Fragrance Consultant for five years and am a recent Marketing graduate. I can confirm it works. The perfume industry has reached an unsustainable level of saturation, with approximately 323 new fragrances being launched every year. Excessive brand choice is a serious issue within the industry with consumers being continually bombarded with the latest ‘must have' fragrance. Interestingly market leader Chanel N°5 celebrated its 90th anniversary last year, presenting a paradox between competing classic and modern brands. Chanel broke away from its traditional 'safe' advertising (with the likes of Nicole Kidman) with the 2012 Christmas campaign. I know a few men have walked up to the Chanel counter and asked for the new men's Brad Pitt fragrance. It is an example of a brand which has exceeded market leader status with no other brands even coming close, meaning they can push the boundaries of stupidity in their advertising. When Cadbury had the Gorilla advert for example most thought it was genius, odd as it had nothing to do with chocolate but it seemed to attract attention nonetheless. Perfume is not a rational product, at the end of the day it is smelly water with a £60 price tag, its proposition is solely emotional, based on how it makes us feel, who we want to be, a marketers dream!

14 Jan 2013 - 14:25

@susan10924 Very interesting to hear your take on it so thanks =) Totally agree about Cadburys. I guess the only thing is that if Cadburys, Nestle, Mars, Terry's, Fry's and Kraft all decided to advertise their chocolate bars in the same way, then Cadburys would cease being THE quirky brand and would become 'just another one of those quirky chocolate brands'. It would grate just as these perfume ads do. With my limited knowledge of the perfume industry, I dare say there's big rewards for whoever differentiates their advertising properly - truly differentiating their brand. Is there value in the 'down-to-earth persons fragrance'? Or maybe a 'no bullshit, just free and happy' type proposition? Plenty of make-up and skin-care ads do it very well (think Simple, Olay or Nivea, for example). But then who wants to break tradition when there is so much at stake? (323 new fragrances per year - whoa! That's nuts).

14 Jan 2013 - 11:51
LindseyWatson's picture

I totally agree about the fragrance ads. The Brad Pitt one in particular makes me want to scream every time I see it. Complete and utter tosh! And it does not make me want to rush out and spritz myself in Chanel!

The Snowman and the Snowdog; that's a different story! My guilty pleasure this Christmas (even though it makes my daughter cry!!)

14 Jan 2013 - 12:19
Peterfielding's picture

Mr Boulton, totally agree and have been screaming at them for some time to devise advertising that engages and doesn't patronise. Why do they all seem to follow the same track...expensive pseudo sets and implausibly beautiful people doing who knows what!

14 Jan 2013 - 12:31
clairew's picture

Chanel made this film about Marilyn Monroe and the brand around the same time that the Brad Pitt 'vacant staring' campaign came out. Why on earth they released Brad's ad over some version of this Marilyn thing, which is brilliant, boggles my mind http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wo8UtWiYiZI

14 Jan 2013 - 15:35

Can someone knock together a quick storyboard for the Ryan Gosling arm wrestling a robot Jesus on the back of a giant space dolphin, could be a winner.

14 Jan 2013 - 17:01
andrewboulton's picture

I'm on it. Only problem - we can't get Ryan Gosling. We can only get Ryan Giggs. You still in? @hi_stephen21445

14 Jan 2013 - 17:25
jkmed89895's picture


'Urban Dysentery' for boys and girls

20 Jan 2013 - 16:08
TontonZolaMoukoko's picture

Snowman and the Snowdog was good. You should watch it again.

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