I don’t normally watch a lot of television, but Sister Act was on over the weekend and so, nursing the worst hangover in living memory, I watched it. Most enjoyable. Except for the horrible intervals, during which the viewer must suffer a stampede of retailers all demanding that their dubious tat be considered as a potential ‘gift’ to inflict on countless unwitting relatives.
The curious thing with Christmas adverts is that all they seem reluctant to tell you what they are actually selling until the last moment. It’s as though the whole thing is a joke, or a magic trick, dependant on some final revelation. Like an episode of Scooby-Doo. Advertising should, in an ideal world, consist of: here’s the thing, here’s what it does, buy it. Who could object to that sort of advertising? Who could object to Ronseal? You might reasonably argue that that sort of advert is more of a public service announcement – albeit one that suffers from a degree of bias.
But at Christmas there seems to be an increase in the other sorts of adverts, where no product is on display at all. You’re not being sold a product, really. You’re being sold a bunch of shit completely unrelated to the product. It’s apparently a thing nowadays to include home video footage, in order to tug at the heartstrings. Lots of quasi-spontaneous moments designed to look as though they’ve been captured on home video. Maybe they actually have, and just now the footage is being co-opted in order to sell pudding or something.
And at the end they just throw in a brand. Sometimes the link between the images and the brand is tenuous; sometimes the link is non-existent. Are we dumb or what? Are we supposed to not notice? “Like, isn’t Christmas wonderful? Let’s all be happy for the gift of family. Or friendship. Or love. Or whatever, go shop at Tesco.”
There is one category of product that is especially guilty, here. I’m talking about perfume (or aftershave, or musk, or whatever the more accepted masculine term is.) Now that the festive season is upon us, everyone who aspires to any degree of class must buy their loved ones a vial of scented fluid. Usually it’s got some French name, since French, as a language, makes everything classier. ‘L’eau pour homme’, for example, sounds classier than ‘Water for Men’, which sounds like something you’d be embarrassed to say. Also, it must have a name that makes no appreciable sense: maybe some abstract noun, like ‘Bravery’ or ‘Intuition’; or some perhaps some random number (does anyone actually know what Chanel no. 5 is? Where the fuck is Chanel no.’s 1-4? Do they exist, but smell like wet fur? Was there a Chanel 6? I wish the Saw films had taken this approach.)
Anyway. I can understand why the perfume companies employ this sort of vague ‘lifestyle’ advertising; they have no way to actually project the odour they’re selling into the front room. So they must resort to projecting some other desirable things. Like improbably attractive people, wearing improbably expensive-looking clothes and jewellery (or nothing at all).
Let’s refresh our memories with some examples. Here’s Brad Pitt from last year:
What is he talking about? Who knows.
And here’s Scarlett Johansan, apparently recovering from a catastrophic head injury:
“The smell of sunshine’s the best. You know what I mean?”
We’ve all noticed this sort of thing before, but most of the existing commentary centres on the incomprehensibleness of it all, and the lack of bearing it has on perfume. “Why,” the internet groans, “is Brad Pitt talking absolute nonsense?” They might then conclude that the people at Chanel are idiots. Well, they’re not idiots. They’re actually evil geniuses. You don’t get to be a multinational corporation whose revenues exceed six billion by staffing your marketing department with dribbling morons.
A Chanel executive might have posed the question to the boardroom: “What do people like?” And the boardroom would respond thusly:
Now, I could quite easily enter into a long boring musing about how the three are really related quite intimately, or that the latter two are probably subservient to the first one in some incomprehensible Freudian way. But that would miss the point. The point is that none of these things is ‘smelling good’. And so, ‘smelling good’ is not an end in itself, but a vehicle by which to access these other things to which we should all apparently aspire. Are you still with me?
It follows, then, that the enterprising musk-merchant must somehow convince the audience that they can achieve all of these other things if they were to only smell a little better. And not only better, but better in a quite specific way. And the only way to do that is through a sort of vague association which might run as follows:
This is the sort of thing that very wealthy people buy. If I buy it, I will have one thing further in common with the very wealthy people, and therefore bring myself a step closer to being rich and wealthy. Like elite athletes are always shown drinking Lucozade sport. If I, Lardy McTubberson, subsist on Lucozade Sport, then my abdominal musculature shall become as toned as that of Jessica Ennis-Hill.
Woah. I switched tenses there, just at will. Hmmm. Hold on, this actually doesn’t make much sense, does it? Well, the evil geniuses at Chanel are aware of this, too. Let’s not use too many words in our advertising – and let’s ensure that the words we do use make as little sense as possible. We can mask any logical inconsistencies with stream of gubbins spouted from the mouth of a handsome, well-dressed humanoid. Then the laws of physics might be suspended in some bizarre way, in order to confuse the situation further. You’ve all seen that one where it goes:
“Would you like her to repeat the question?”
“I’m not going to be the person I’m expected to be anymore!”
*The walls collapse and the man walks away.*
What the fuck just happened? Is this advert being told from the perspective of one of the journalists, who has just taken a huge dose of LSD? Is it a dream? What is actually going on? Where is the fucking chain of causation, here? Give me something to follow.
Okay, I’m no logician – I’m not even sure that’s a real word – but as I understand it, this is the sort of logic being presented:
- Here’s an image of a rich, attractive person.
- Wouldn’t it be nice if you were a rich attractive person, too?
- What happen? Someone set up us the bomb! We get signal! What? Main screen turn on! It’s you! …How are you gentlemen! All your base are belong to us. You have no chance to survive make your time.
- Here’s a new fragrance by Hugo Boss
So, we know the conclusion we’re supposed to reach. But the journey – how we get there – is a bit vague. But I’m certainly confused, and usually that means that I’m listening to something so clever it can’t be communicated to me using words. So I suppose perfume adverts are supposed to make you confused. They’re a sort of anaesthetic, designed to make your eyes glaze over and accept the conclusion out of fear of admitting you don’t understand any of the preceding bullcrap. It’s a bit like GCSE Geography all over again.
We all understand the conclusion, though, don’t we? We know what’s being subtly implied in most of these adverts (excluding the aforementioned ones where a celebrity monologues inanely, where no such implication is required). Wink, wink; nudge, nudge. He’s going to shag her. She’s going to receive a shagging, with thanks. They’ll probably both enjoy it. Neither will resent the other’s lack of intimacy, or fear of commitment. HEY ASSHOLE! THIS COULD BE YOU! Spray yourself with this crap! Shortly afterward you shall to shag with impunity! In this respect they’re functionally identical to those stupid Lynx adverts, except a lot more pretentious.
Well, don’t listen to that shit. Base your perfume choice based on the following factors:
- How good you (or whoever) smell without it.
- How good it smells.
- If possible, get a second opinion. (But preferably not from the attractive law student Selfridges have employed to shepherd money from the wallets of clueless men into the coffers of Selfridges.)
Anyone, here endeth the lesson. I dissaprove of this sort of thing. Like I dissaprove of the smell of hate. You know what I mean?
Until next week.