All perfume ads look the same

We have recently released a new video campaign for our fragrance Bubble Gum. It has a simple yet quirky storyline, there is just one model, dressed in bright colours, playing around with bubble gums and slimes, stretching them, rolling, throwing and pushing. The perfume bottle appears at some point too. The dialogue? You can hear one side of the phone conversation with sounds that suggest so, presumably describing an experience of smelling a perfume. 

What is this ad even about? What are we trying to advertise? 

Popular perfume ads usually follow a very defined scenario: there is a beautiful girl, in a great dress, moving sensually, maybe dancing a little. There is usually a handsome man too, and most likely, one is trying to flirt with one another and we have a little romance story playing out in front of our eyes. Even in Emily in Paris, we had a pretty good look at it! We get it – this is how these fragrances are meant to make you feel – sexy, alluring and beautiful.

We don’t always wear perfume to feel any of these feelings. It is also not only about making us feel more attractive. Sometimes, it’s about a dose of confidence or a good mood, or just to feel like oneself. So many different reasons! 

Of course, it’s not only the perfume industry to blame. Apparently, “sex sells”, we’ve heard it decades ago, it stuck around and we got used to it to the extent that, for many years, it has not been questioned. 

Luckily, thanks to the grassroots work of many feminist and social equality organisations, it is slowly changing in some areas of our life and some ads that were considered appropriate back in the day, wouldn’t be so nowadays. The worst examples will be accordingly called out. 

Yet still, there are so little perfume ads that do not feature a stereotypically beautiful, according to the Western canon, woman: white, thin, young and heteronormative.

So I imagine that the idea behind it was: another woman watches such an ad and thinks “well so if I buy this perfume, I will be just like her and the society tells me I should be exactly like that, so I should do so”. The truth is, the majority of woman cannot relate to it, this woman from an ad is not representing. It’s not okay to benefit from the patriarchal system and try to sell someone a product on the premise of making them ‘perfect’ while simultaneously objectifying them. 

Another possibility is that these ads are made to be watched by a heterosexual man who will enjoy the attractive actress on the screen and gift said perfume to his partner – which was probably working well when these type of advertisements started appearing during horrific times when the majority of women weren’t in charge of their money. Yes, that’s how long we’ve been looking at the same ad, a different perfume. 

We’re so done with this! We hope that the recent growth of niche perfume will also mean a change in creative ideas used to promote fragrances. Conveying a scent in a moving image makes it easier to translate its aura to someone before they can smell it. Let’s try to capture all the moods, all the reasons, all the feelings we lock in the perfume bottle.

To wholesale or not to wholesale

The perfume industry is interesting. Not every customer is confident enough in their knowledge to describe, or even recognize the notes they are smelling. This allows for room to fantasise and create stories, but it also allows for vagueness. There’s a mystery surrounding the individual elements that make a fragrance smell so divine. One search on the Internet is enough to find out that often the ingredients in a luxury fragrance don’t actually cost that much. So, where is that price tag coming from?

A high quality perfume is about more than just a beautiful scent. It’s the bottle and packaging, and so much more. It’s a sustainable supply chain, and the ethical treatment of workers. It’s the creative team who build a website which represents the brand well. These things add up, resulting in a more expensive product—just as a silk dress made ethically, sustainably and beautifully packaged will have a higher price tag than a silk dress made in a factory by underpaid staff. In luxury perfumery, like luxury fashion—and we believe ethical products are the only true luxury—the end price reflects the time and effort of many well paid staff. 

This is where wholesale makes things difficult. At Bel Rebel, we have experience working with distributors and agents prior to running a multi brand perfume boutique two years, stocking hundreds of niche fragrances, and this has informed our understanding of how wholesale affects a brand.

There are certainly a lot of benefits to selling a perfume through bricks and mortar stores, the main one being that we are still not able to experience scent through a computer screen, so the presence of the brand in the boutique is the only way the brand is physically translated around the world. Oftentimes the right wholesale partnerships are necessary for brands to reach their customers. 

The trouble is, this means either the customer, or the brand isn’t getting what they deserve. We did the maths and realised that some of the niche perfume brands, retailing their fragrances for a significant price, end up making very little after all the costs of running the brand, producing the product and sometimes also working with a distributor. It seems like the profits after these costs might have not covered other essential parts of the business, in effect making it unsustainable. When the standard wholesale price is 50% or even 70% below retail price, the quality of the product is unlikely to reflect its cost. 

Of course there are other reasons why brands depend on boutiques to sell their products—these boutiques often produce creative content for them and organise marketing and influencer campaigns. After all the costs, for 60% of the price, they end up taking care of various promotional activities, while still making decent profit themselves. 

Frankly, at Bel Rebel we don’t think this makes sense. Brands are torn between two options: shifting the promotional operations to their retailers or just not promoting altogether. We wish this model could be a bit different and we will be trying to work with our partners differently. This hopefully will open the the market to opportunity and common understanding, and maybe even encourage more sensitivity towards each other. There is absolutely nothing as luxurious as knowing that people working along the way are well rewarded for their work, this in effect should promote the average farmers livelihood and promote further transparency along many pricing issues in todays perfumery world.