Malodorous marketing - Monocolumn | Monocle


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27 November 2012

I’d seen little snippets before and I confess, I was impressed: the piercing eyes; the doleful brows; the full, thick, messianic hair; the goatee. But nothing quite prepared me for the full experience. Brad Pitt in black and white, staring at me from behind a row of lipsticks in the perfume hall of a London department store. It stopped me in my tracks.

Much has been written about the latest Chanel 5 advert. Many have derided the psycho babbling Mr Pitt. The internet has seen its fair share of parodies. Why, for so many, doesn’t it work? Among the slim knees and straight backs of 31 rue Cambon in Paris, Mr Pitt’s seductive talk no doubt works a treat. On the big screen too, his monologue impresses. But place him in a provincial cosmetics department among the lunchtime lady-suits treating themselves to an eyeshadow and for me he looks quite mad.

Chanel is used to the sniping. There’s Mr Pitt, of course, and then there was Nicole Kidman’s Moulin Rouge campaign which prompted a generation to scream, “I’m a Dahncer, I love to Daahnce!” every time Miss Kidman popped up on our screens.

In Chanel’s defence, the commercials may be a bit bonkers but at least they’re memorable – which is, of course, priceless. Because we live in an age when most big houses churn out variations of the same sickly sweet fragrance, which induces in this reader at least the feeling of having eaten too many sweets.

And the campaigns are similarly identical. Smooth flesh, shiny hair, big eyelashes. Perhaps some fruit. Maybe a cityscape. Little originality, plenty of Photoshop. As a result, the ability to differentiate between brands has been challenged and there’s nothing very fantastic about being offered the same fantasy. For example, I know that every Christmas Charlize Theron will whip her clothes off and strut down a corridor but I can’t remember in whose name she’s got naked and I certainly have no clue what the perfume smells like.

We’re approaching a season when more fragrance will be sold than at any other time of the year and much of this will be bought as a gift. Which makes me wonder: who are these campaigns targeted at? A gal may well wish to dip her toes in a lily pond and pretend to be Charlotte Gainsbourg by wearing Balenciaga but will her beloved pick up on this? And in this context, what on Earth does the Brad Pitt advert mean to a bewildered spouse? Is one supposed to buy a perfume which, with one squirt, will make a woman more attractive to other men?

Perhaps I am overthinking things a little but I’d argue the perfume houses are too. And so may I suggest a return to the joyful frivolity of fragrance. After all it’s supposed to lift one’s mood, brighten another’s day, make one smell nice.

And perhaps this is what made Mr Pitt seem so wrong in that department store last week. Number 5 is a beautiful perfume and it will always occupy a beloved spot in millions of beauty cabinets, regardless of the musings of a craggy Hollywood ham.


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