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. 

What did we learn while running a multi-brand perfume boutique?

Before Bel Rebel became a perfume brand, we were running a multi-brand perfume boutique. It was a great adventure that helped us learning a lot about the industry, and all its funny rules and odd customs.

Stock my brand!!!

There are many, many perfume brands. The industry was worth $31.4 billion in 2018, and is growing constantly. Even in a city like London, full of big perfume retailers (like Selfridges or Harrods) with a handful of independent shops, if you own or manage a perfume retail location, you will be flooded with samples of new creations and new perfume lines on a daily basis. Also, since you function as a shop, it means that your doors are constantly open. The brand ambassadors – either founders themselves or their agents – feel free to knock on your door anytime. How much easier would it be if those brand ambassadors let you know before they were coming and actually set up a meeting time with you. Having a different structure, department stores can avoid this situation. In a boutique, you’re often lured into a conversation with your customer, only to find out half an hour later that they are actually perfumers and they have this amazing set of their fragrances with them, totally accidentally.

Sometimes we are just not suitable. Sometimes we are not looking to expand the portfolio of available brands. Anyhow, a “no” should be respected regardless of its reason. Perfume boutique managers do not owe you their time and attention. Having this experience, we imagine our relationship with retailers significantly different – we need to be a match!

Communications strategies and attempts

In a multi-brand perfume boutique, you are expected to sell products from many different brands to your customers. Fine, you definitely have some sort of audience, whether it is thanks to your location or thanks to your online presence. Your role is to have more customers, to sell more products, which will be a success for both you and the brands you are selling. It’s a system we know from many other retail stores, which requires an effort of both sides.

Niche perfume brands – or artisan – are often very small. That comes with budget constraints, and most of them do not have a lot to spend on marketing. But there is a lot one can do with limited budget nowadays.

So what usually happens? As a boutique, you can count on an occasional pop in to your boutique by a perfumer, an event highly anticipated by some of your perfume-obsessed customers, who look forward to learning about the inspirations behind perfumes. Many of your less regular, or less fragrance-obsessed customers, would not really care. Marketing and PR strategies should not be solely based on these ‘meet and greets’.

A lack of support from brands and their distributors can inspire more creativity on the part of the shop owners. Look at all of the creative and innovative Instagram posts by perfumeries around the world. Hardly any of them rely on pack shots from brands or any marketing materials produced by them. If they do, the content becomes extremely generic. Most pictures taken of perfumes follow a specific style, being little more than a creative pack-shot.

The Old Fashioned Model

There are many ways one can sell perfume: through big department stores, smaller independent boutiques, online and through the brand’s own brick and mortar stores. Often, especially when trying to gain popularity in foreign countries, the easiest solution seems to be reaching out to a distributor. They will take care of everything and you won’t have to worry.

From our experience, the relationship between stores and distributors is not always great. Their role is difficult to define—is it just distributing or does it also include promotion? It seems like they tend to prioritise big retailers over smaller boutiques. Of course, behind a department store there is always more money, but perhaps having a great relationship with a smaller retailer can result in a better connection with a loyal, returning customer. We’re sure one can have both.

Who do you preach to?

Both fashion and beauty brands have experienced ridiculous growth thanks to influencer marketing. Something that perfume brands have also spotted. I would just say that preaching to the converted does not make a lot of sense – yes, let’s embrace the perfume bloggers, it’s wonderful they exist and promote our industry. Some of their audience might be also very interested in buying another fragrance – or a sample, or a decanter of it. It would be great to see some initiatives going out of the box, there is still very little of them. Perhaps trying to speak to a bit different audience in order to reach to people who may not know your brand? In the tight-knit circles of perfume fans, perfume collectors tend to know about majority of the brands, even when they are pretty new. Amongst them, word travels really fast. The trick is to reach new customers who haven’t heard about your brand before.


The problem with perfume industry seems to be its permanent confusion about where it actually belongs. There is artistry in it, which brings the idea that since it’s an art it will promote itself without unnecessary marketing actions. Even fine art does not really work like this anymore. It’s okay to promote things, to reach out actively to a new audience instead of waiting for customers to come by themselves.

Why don’t we call Bel Rebel a vegan brand?

We love the fact that more brands are becoming cruelty-free and vegan, that society has started to care about sustainability more than we ever did before. There is still tons of work to be done to make businesses more ethical. Simultaneously, there are a lot of marketing initiatives that promote our good doings. It is one thing to talk about being a sustainable brand, and quite another to actually be one.

If you live in a big city, use Instagram, or are up to date with current trends in any way, you will have noticed the influx of vegan influencers, campaigners and products. Which is great—it gives us hope that we can stop, or at least slow down, the negative impact we had on Earth.

Vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics and perfumes are becoming more popular, as consumers try to make decisions which are better for the planet. But this has meant some brands are prone to constant green-washing. The current climate situation is too serious to get away with such banal, mischievous strategies. Many brands rely on being vegan as their unique selling point. This does make sense in regards to big conglomerates which consciously decide not to sell their products in China (where testing on animals is often performed). However, your local indie perfume brand from Europe is most likely not testing on animals. It has been illegal in Europe since 2013 and since 1997 in the UK. Not testing on animals does not make you special.

“Being vegan as a perfume brand is very easy to be achieved. It should not be the only unique selling point for a brand. We need to collectively do more to change the Earth’s fate”.

What about animal-derived ingredients in perfumes? Well, there are some, but the use of natural musk is really not as popular as some brands make us think. Most of the time, perfumers use the synthetic musks, especially in mass produced perfumes. Simply, it’s cheaper. The same goes for civet, traditionally harvested from animals but now usually synthetically reproduced. One exception is Ambergris, which could be considered cruelty-free but not vegan; formed in the whale’s digestive tract, and then excreted into the ocean where it becomes oxidised, bleached, seasoned and matured by sun and brine until it eventually washes ashore, it’s hard to find and so extremely expensive. But again, there are so many different ingredients used to recreate its smell. Apart from this, there are a few other animal-derived ingredients in perfumes, such as honey. But not many.

We choose not to emphasise the vegan aspect of our perfumes. We communicate that we are cruelty free in our brand’s description as this information should be easily available for customers. However, at the same time we do believe firmly that being vegan as a perfume brand is very easy to be achieved. It should not be the only unique selling point for a brand. We need to collectively do more to change the Earth’s fate.