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

By Andrew Boulton

January 14, 2013 | 4 min read

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.

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

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.


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