That’s right. You read correctly. The history of perfume advertisement. We’ve gone highbrow. I am, I believe an advertiser’s dream. Repackage anything ever so slightly, make it shinier, and tell me it gives you abs in ten days, and you have my full attention. A clearly fatal flaw in my entire personality.
“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need,’ Edward Norton tells us bluntly in Fight Club. He’s correct. And despite knowing this, I will clearly never change. Advertising has always intrigued me. Mad Men may be responsible for this. Possibly I just like the idea of wearing immaculate suits, drinking whisky, and coming up with multi-million dollar ideas. I miss Mad Men.
This though isn’t a deep dive into the entire world of advertising. I’m looking specifically at the madness of perfume adverts. I love them. Always have. Always will. Why? Because they are essentially ridiculous. They make no sense. They are absurd and no logic exists. All I ask of you after reading this is to go and watch any perfume advert and tell me I’m lying.
There is more often than not, no apparent storyline behind any of them. What they are, is a visual feast to behold. Cinematic and artistically beautiful, and equipped with an unrealistically gorgeous cast, that will often feature a purringly seductive voice, occasionally talking in riddles: ‘I am a daisy and you are the earth, we are we, and we are you. But who am I, if you are who? Kaleidoscope by Gucci.’
Lana Del Ray’s and Jared Leto’s appearances in the Gucci Guilty campaign is a magnificent example of this. It has ostriches, tigers, snakes, supermarkets, launderettes, cafes, and much more. An assortment of madness. Artistic mayhem, which you rarely see with any other type of advertising. The brief always just reads ‘let’s just do it weird and nonsensical.’
Jean-Paul Gaultier’s perfume ads also match this brief. His fragrances always come to life in the most beautiful and incredibly surreal ways on screen. Sailors, mermaids, arm wrestling. They are all there, and they should be enjoyed for the wonderful works of wierdness they are.
One of my favourite perfume ads in recent years, was Dolce and Gabbana’s Light Blue campaign, featuring David Gandy and Anna Jagodzinska. This drifts beautifully away from the often frenzied and maniacal direction of fragrance productions. There are no words. They aren’t necessary. In fact, there really isn’t much. Just two outlandishly beautiful human beings enjoying the diamond blue waters of the Mediterranean.
It’s an advert that also skyrocketed Gandy’s career. There is no over-the-top script or directing. instead, it is one of the few examples of simplicity reigning supreme. Just magnificent specimens, having a bloody good holiday by the looks of it.
SO WHERE DID IT BEGIN?
Aftershaves and perfumes, for the most part, are now intertwined and aligned in their advertisements. But of course, it hasn’t always been like that.
The history of aftershave advertisements can be traced back to the early 20th century when its use was first becoming popular among men. At the time, advertisements for aftershave were often simple and straightforward, showcasing the product and its benefits in a straightforward manner. Imagine that. Madness
One of the first major aftershave brands to emerge was Bay Rum, which was first introduced in the 1890s. The brand’s advertisements were classic and elegant, featuring a picture of the product and a list of its benefits, such as its ability to soothe and refresh the skin.
In the 1920s and 1930s, aftershave advertisements began to evolve and become more sophisticated. Companies began to use celebrities, such as movie stars and athletes, to promote their products. These advertisements often featured the celebrity using the product and praising its benefits, in an effort to appeal to the consumer’s desire to emulate their idols.
In America, during World War II, aftershave advertisements took on a more patriotic tone, with many companies emphasising the importance of looking and feeling one’s best for the war effort. After the war, the advertisements began to focus more on the idea of masculinity and the “American man.” Many advertisements featured rugged, handsome men, often in outdoor settings, in order to appeal to the consumer’s desire to embody these masculine ideals.
In the 1950s and 1960s, aftershave advertisements began to incorporate more humor and lightheartedness. Advertisements for products like Old Spice featured men in comical situations, emphasizing the idea that the aftershave was for the “fun-loving man.”
In the 1970s and 1980s, aftershave advertisements began to focus more on the idea of luxury and sophistication. Advertisements for products like Polo and Drakkar Noir featured men in expensive suits, driving sports cars, and living the high life. The advertisements emphasised the idea that the aftershave was a status symbol, and that wearing it would make the consumer feel more successful and refined.
DESIGNED TO EVOKE FEELINGS OF GLAMOUR
The first recorded perfume advertisement appeared in a French newspaper in 1709, promoting the sale of a new scent called “Hungary Water.” This advertisement marked the beginning of the use of mass media to promote fragrance products. In the 19th century, perfumes were marketed primarily to the wealthy and were often sold in high-end department stores and via door-to-door salesmen.
There was then the emergence of celebrity endorsements. By the early 20th century, the perfume industry had expanded greatly, and companies began to use celebrity endorsements to promote their products. Film stars such ascand Pola Negri became the faces of popular fragrances, and their images graced advertisements in magazines and on billboards.
The 1950s and 1960s are often considered the “Golden Age” of perfume advertising. This period saw the rise of iconic fragrances such as Chanel No. 5, and the advent of television brought new opportunities for perfume makers to reach a wider audience. Advertisements during this time often featured elegant, stylish women and were designed to evoke feelings of glamour, sophistication, and luxury.
In the late 20th century, fragrance companies began to employ a new marketing technique called “ambient marketing,” which used sensory stimuli to promote their products. This included the use of in-store displays, scent strips in magazines, and product sampling programs. These marketing strategies helped to bring the scents of perfumes to life, allowing consumers to experience the fragrances before they made a purchase.
THE CHANGING OF CULTURAL IDEAS AND VALUES
In recent years, aftershave and perfume advertisements have continued to evolve, with many companies using social media and digital marketing to reach their target audience. Some advertisements have also begun to focus more on the idea of individuality and self-expression, with the message that the aftershave is a way for the consumer to express their unique personal style. Hence, the utter mayhem or bizarreness which often ensues. Daisy, Daisy, Daisy.
Overall, the history of fragrance advertisements reflects the changing cultural ideals and values of society. From simple and straightforward advertisements in the early 20th century to the more complex and sophisticated advertisements in the 21st century, advertisements have evolved to reflect the ever-changing ideals of masculinity, femininity, luxury, and individuality. Sometimes though, they are none of that. Sometimes they are just plain bonkers.