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Rating the Ads: From Sensual to Self-Indulgent

NEW YORK -- As store counters grow increasingly crowded, fragrance manufacturers are relying more and more on expensive advertising campaigns to cut through the clutter and get their messages across to the consumer.<BR><BR>To rate this hyperactive...

NEW YORK — As store counters grow increasingly crowded, fragrance manufacturers are relying more and more on expensive advertising campaigns to cut through the clutter and get their messages across to the consumer.

To rate this hyperactive field, WWD asked a cross section of key ad agency executives to voice their opinions on who is doing well and who isn’t.

Some campaigns, such as Casmir from Parfums Chopard and Escape by Calvin Klein, garnered praise from several commentators. Others, including Estee Lauder’s Beautiful, drew a mixed reaction.

But those polled agreed on one point: fragrance advertising could use a healthy dose of originality.

Ed Taussig, creative director at Grey Advertising

“There’s only one thing in the whole world that caught my attention — the Casmir launch in Gourmet Magazine,” Taussig said, adding that Lancaster’s advertorial offered “a different kind of sensual experience.

“You go through this stuff and keep seeing the same thing over and over again. No one’s going to beat Calvin Klein at the nudity thing. He’s got that down. There’s only a limited amount of body parts anyway.”

Notably bad campaigns, in Taussig’s estimation, are Gale Hayman’s Delicious, which he described as “a bruised woman eating a bruised peach,” and Bijan’s DNA. “Anything by Bijan is bound to be terrible. He’s amazing for his consistency. Does anybody really want his DNA?”

Taussig gave 360 by Perry Ellis “an honorable mention in bad. One of the premiere tenets of fragrance advertising is that it should be aspirational. Not even Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm would want to ride backwards on a cow on the beach.”

The ads for Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds and Fragrant Jewels are “the ultimate in vulgarity,” Taussig said, but he said they work for their audience. “It’s horrifying, but it’s dead on.”

Since so much fragrance advertising depends on sex and fantasy, Taussig said the execution of the concept is often what sets an ad apart. “The Calvin Klein Escape ad is just a couple on a beach until it’s shot by someone who knows what they’re doing.”

Another example of a well-executed campaign is Coco by Chanel, Taussig said, with a TV commercial of Vanessa Paradis whistling in a cage. “At least it’s mysterious and unexplainable, rather than mysterious and ugh.”

Lynne Seid, executive vice president and director of marketing at Partners & Shevack

“The best new fragrance ad campaign is Escape, and the reason is that although they borrowed imagery from From Here to Eternity, they instantly created an icon for the brand that establishes the name.

“I find most of the other advertising introductions of the last couple of years very prosaic because, basically, they have no icons identified with the brands,” Seid said, citing V by Vanderbilt and Vivid from Liz Claiborne as examples.

“The new Oscar [by Oscar de la Renta] campaign is hardly an icon and also does not match any image of what that fragrance is. I appreciate that they want to bring the average age of [the Oscar customer] down, but I think there are more original ways to appeal to that audience.”

Another mediocre campaign, Seid said, is Smalto Donna, which she labeled “generic fragrance advertising. It’s the oldest idea in the world to show a woman with her hair up and bare shoulders, surrounded by flowers.”

But Seid listed several campaigns she considers good, including Sunflowers. “Elizabeth Arden did a great job of tying the ownership image, fashion sense and youthful, light feeling into the fragrance concept.”

Cover Girl’s Navy “is very recognizable,” Seid said, noting that by changing the fashion rather than relying on one icon, “They’ve made it almost like a fashion accessory.

“It’s either got to be timely or timeless. All great fragrance advertising has had some edge to it or some risk. Even [Estee Lauder’s] Beautiful — it was a big risk to pin it down to a bride because a lot of women have been brides and never want to be again or don’t relate to brides as a lifestyle.”

Charles DeCaro, partner and creative director of Laspata/DeCaro Studio

“The dislike list is much heavier. I don’t remember anything that’s sort of striking or innovative. Most disappointing are the Estee Lauder [Beautiful] ads. It seems very hackneyed at this point. She should be married and have children at this point, and they should be attending college.”

DeCaro said he especially doesn’t like ads that “zero in on the bottle. Fragrance ads should be more about mystique and mystery. It’s so product oriented lately, which I don’t think is very enticing.

“Primarily, perfume is such a luxury. People buy it for so many different reasons. I think there needs to be something more fantasy-oriented, something that will conjure more wild imaginations. The ads seem a little boring now.”

Although DeCaro said none of the current campaigns compare “with the impact of the Chanel ‘Share the fantasy’ campaign” of the Eighties, he said Lancaster’s imagery of India for the Casmir ad “evokes some sort of fantasy” and is “pretty.” Also, he said he likes the new ad for Jil Sander No. 4 “because Linda [Evangelista] looks beautiful, and it’s a beautiful image.”

Sally Minard, partner in Lotas Minard Patton McIver

“I’ve just been aware of so much sameness. There’s a lot of blue sky happening,” Minard said, describing Christian Dior’s Dune, Giorgio Beverly Hills’ Wings and Lancaster’s Joop as “almost identical ads.”

V by Vanderbilt also lacks in originality, Minard said. “It seems like such a knockoff of [360 by] Perry Ellis — ‘Break the rules.’ I don’t think it makes it.”

Minard listed some other unoriginal campaigns: Samba (just like Hermes), Jean Patou’s Sublime (like Givenchy’s Amarige) and Liz Claiborne’s Vivid, which she termed “just not special enough.”

“Because a fragrance ad is not promising any benefit whatsoever, it has to reach out and create an emotion,” she said.

Although it’s memorable, Calvin Klein’s new Obsession ad with Kate Moss lying naked on a couch is “too ‘victim,”‘ Minard said. “It’s almost scary, but a lot of his stuff has been scary.”

On Minard’s good list is Coty’s Vanilla Fields for being “distinctive,” Nicole Miller for being “true to herself” and Chanel for being “daring.”

Minard also cited Tresor. “It’s daring to stay the same. They know locking in the soft color and lovely Isabella [Rossellini] is a winner.”

Jane Gundell, director of client services at Weiss, Whitten, Stagliano

“They tend to sort of consolidate in the general area of unmemorable. You think about this category, and there’s no equivalent of Nike.

“The ones that are most impressive are those that are in sync with the imagery of the designer, such as Calvin Klein or Chanel. Tribu [by Benetton] tried to do something different and should be given credit for that.”

On the not-so-credible side, Gundell listed the Beautiful ad, which she said is “not particularly distinctive,” and Bijan’s DNA. “I think he’s much more interested in his family than anybody else is. It’s a little self-indulgent.”