“Smells Like Overly-Sexualized-Fragrance-Industry Spirit”
//Discourse of Advertising Assignment #1
Perfume ads have always intrigued me, so upon seeing the selection of possible advertising genres to analyze the choice was obvious. There are numerous fragrance advertisements plastered throughout magazines, but there usually seems to be several common themes among them. Throughout this analysis, I will be primarily focusing on various advertisements for men’s fragrances.
The ads pictured above belong to a 2007 campaign for Tom Ford’s debut male fragrance. Now, despite being a men’s fragrance, this ad campaign features a fully nude female in erotic poses with the product strategically placed both on the woman and in the advertisement. There is no man in these photos, nor is there any information about the perfume. Instead, the text simply states “Tom Ford For Men” in big, bold font. Solomon states that “nothing cuts through the clutter like sex”, in the sense that among the overwhelming amount of advertisements we are exposed to on a daily basis the sexual ones are usually the most shocking, provocative, and engaging. Advertisements such as the one above do not directly sell the product or inform you about any of the perfume’s features. However, these advertisements do incite conversation, evoke reactions, and allow the viewer to establish his or her own connections. Barry implies that it is usually best to imply a message, and “Leaving a bit for the consumer to figure out will engage them with your idea” (25). Therefore, the ad doesn’t need to explicitly say ‘use this perfume, then you can have sex with flawless women‘, it visually screams this connection between the fragrance and sex which allows the viewers to establish their own interpretations, all while engaging the viewers much more effectively than if the ad were to simply feature an image of a perfume bottle without the nude model.
Now looking at a print ad for Gucci Guilty Pour Homme, another male fragrance, sexual undertones are once again present. While this ad for men’s fragrance actually has a male in it, there is still an element of sex. In this ad, the woman is clearly lost in a bout of ecstasy and her focus is entirely on the man. Meanwhile the man has his gaze locked on the viewer. This intense look could have several potential meanings based on the consumer. Men who view this ad could perceive this look as a means of intimidation, where the model is blatantly holding a sexually-engaged woman, and smirking and gazing intently at the viewer as if to communicate ‘look what I have‘ and to evoke a sense of inferiority or envy among viewers. In a way, ads such as these convey a idealistic lifestyle to their viewers, these ads “work by creating symbolic associations between their product and what is most coveted by the consumers to whom they are addressed” (Solomon). Consequently, these ads which seem to feature more sex appeal than fragrance can insinuate that men want sex. By associating their product with sex, a semiotic connection between the perfume and sex can be established.
The tricky thing about perfume ads is that there is no way to ascertain whether or not the models are actually using the product. You cannot see the man or woman applying the fragrance, it is all implied. There is a certain lifestyle associated with splashing on a designer label fragrance, and through these ads, this lifestyle is conveyed to the audience. Male fragrances seem to focus overwhelmingly on sex, and imply that using a certain fragrance will lead to passionate encounters with slim and glossy model-esque women.
Overall the majority of men’s perfume advertisements share many similar characteristics. As mentioned previously there is the ominous and overwhelming association with sex. However, the images are also composed similarly. The colours are all very subdued and sophisticated. There are blends of nudes, golds, and flesh tones often accompanied by greyscale images or the reddish hues. The colour red is particularly striking for me as colours can have profound meaning. Red can symbolize passion, love, power, regality, and fire, among other things. All of these underlying, signified connotations of the colour red play well into establishing a connection between the product, and what the consumer desires most. It is common for most people to seek passion, power, and prestige, and colour is a subtle yet effective way that these associations can be created in ways that go deeper than flashing lights in the backseat window of a car, or a cityscape reflected through a window.
In addition, the placement of the perfume bottle is similar in each ad. The human gaze naturally descends from top to bottom of a page, so the first thing the viewer sees in each of these ads is the man or woman, then the gaze slowly drops to the bottle. This can once again allow the viewer to make his or her own connections, and arrive at a conclusion where the man and perfume are correlated.
Regarding the audience of these fragrance ads, they are saturated in sex appeal and therefore appear to be targeted towards an older, sexually-active demographic. This demographic is presumedly 20 – 50 years old, and can be male or female depending on the specific fragrance being featured. Men would purchase this fragrance for themselves, or women would purchase these products for their partners. The visual patterns present in these ads reflect a wealthy, powerful audience, or an audience of men who aspire to live a powerful, passionate life. All of these perfumes are well-known brands fragrances by these brands can cost upwards of $100 CAD; therefore, one would already need to have some degree of disposable income in order to responsibly sustain such purchases. There is also connotations related to The American Dream present in these advertisement. The men pictured are all young, assumedly wealthy and successful, and are able to easily attract beautiful women. Now, this is not ordinary for the average citizen, but Solomon claims “Americans dream of rising above the crowd, of attaining a social summit beyond the reach of ordinary citizens.” This ideal prevails throughout the ads, as nothing indicates that the models depicted are ordinary. They are all incredibly attractive by Western standards, and wield a considerable amount of affluence and influence. Everything about the images reeks of an unattainable fantasy, from the colours, environments, emotions conveyed, and the people themselves. However, the perfume industry uses images such as the ones above in an attempt to dismantle the barrier between this fantasy and the viewer in order to really sell this highly sought-after lifestyle. The themes in these ads are all similar, and they’re all successful in portraying an unattainable fantasy in cohesion with a bottle of fragrance while selling the idea that smelling good leads to success, power, and sex.
Barry, Pete. The Advertising Concept Book. New York: Thames & Hudson Inc., 2012. Print.
Solomon, Jack. Masters of Desire: The Culture of American Advertising. Accessed on January 13th, 2015, from:
Tom Ford Advertisement: