Theoretically, yes- but we haven’t and don’t want to.
Perfume ads have long been lampooned and parodied for their abstract aspirational ads, yet the research speaks for itself.
Many perfume brands use aspirational marketing to drive sales, and people buy aspirational scents to get closer to the ideal versions of ourselves.
This marketing can be harmful and has been rightly criticised, for lacking diversity and promoting unrealistic beauty standards.
Aspirational marketing can also overshadow the scent itself, putting indies and artisans in a difficult spot if they don't understand how to market a brand.
The pressure to attain a perfume's idealised image can lead to rash financial decisions, or experimenting with dupes without first checking out the seller or safety info.
However, aspirational marketing remains a major driver of perfume sales. That said, the nature of this aspiration may be changing.
PERFUME'S ASPIRATIONAL BUYING PSYCHOLOGY
Perfume is a status symbol, also known as a Veblen good.
This means that a perfume's demand often tends to increases with price, based on perceived notions of quality and exclusivity.
For this reason many people use perfume as a social tool, to reinforce or navigate class structures. It can be used to establish status, trust or belonging in social settings.
As an emotional tool perfume can act as the teddy or blankie you had as a child, an anchor in times of stress and anxiety. A bespoke perfume client of mine described their scent as a "gassy hug".
Our personal insecurities and need for social feedback mean we often turn to perfume ads to know what and when to wear.
For these reasons, perfume ads deliver a carefully crafted lifestyle image and emotional arc.
Glossy ads were ubiquitous pre-2010 for this reason. There was no social media in the convenience and omnipresence of today, where we can access lives and social circles formerly out of our reach or know. Media/industry gatekeepers set the tone and told us what mattered.
PERFUME MARKETING POST SOCIAL MEDIA
In the 2010s, the cultural and commercial conversations in perfume making changed. The rise of globalisation and mobile tech expanded our worlds, and shortened our attention spans.
There are far more things to distract us now, with far more specific targeting, so it's harder for any one message to take across the public mood.
With no need for physical storefronts, and a gold rush just a hashtag away, consumers also have far more choice in brands.
Rarefied worlds like perfume- once cultural monopsonies- were forced to (slowly) respond to the growing voice and buying power of neglected audiences.
The rise of niche perfume brands eroded sales of mass market and celebrity perfume, expanded and reinterpreted ‘acceptable’ perfume feedstocks, and gave new feeling and customisability to the scent medium.
The perfume consumer and perfume fandom have become more visible and vocal.
We began demanding diversity, intersectionality, goods reflecting who we are as individuals. But people still want aspiration, just mission-led and in different packaging.
Think of the clean, moody, stripped down aesthetic in premium packaging from most niche perfume houses.
Often upwards of £70 per 10 ml, a niche/expensive/rebranded star ingredient, and purporting a complete reset of the perfume industry.
CAN WE REMOVE ASPIRATION FROM PERFUME?
"Theoretically, yes- but we haven’t and don’t want to."
Aspiration in perfume can theoretically be removed but would remove a large part of the b2c buying decision.
That decision is to feel secure in who one is and how they express themselves, as well as their competitive role in society.
Would you honestly buy a perfume just because the video/photo says it smells good? You might with the right concept but imagine a vid like this (it's quick). Those mediums, try as we might, can't capture us like a spritz or roll.
There would still be industrial application but rewarded here is price and precision, not imagination. We all want washing powder to smell like Tom Ford, but what about your sweets or your yoghurt?
I’d argue instead that the aspirational standard has inverted and fragmented.
People are looking within, matching and melding personal goals with personal identity.
People now demand products celebrating the best of who they already are, not who they think they should be. Within reason, I think this is a healthier aspiration, rooted in realism.
Brand consolidation, entrenched artistic and marketing culture, and the sheer speed of change has left the perfume industry resistant to change (and struggling to get with the times). Case in point Guerlain, Dior, Jo Malone (owned by Estee Lauder at the time of controversy/publication).
Anyone can wear perfume, and anyone can make it. But unfortunately, the perfume industry clings to the old way of aspiration.
And let’s just call that what it is: one which benefits the white, rich, famous, cis, straight and/or pretty.
The difference is it’s okay now, or at least less punished, to say you won’t assimilate or negotiate. That your goals and image are cultural and/or internal.
This can only be good for the future of perfume and the fumeheads who wear it.
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