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Over the past few days, I set out to answer a burning question that I've had for years:

Why are perfume ads so weird?

It's a pretty wild story 🧵
Advertisers grapple with one fundamental problem when trying to sell perfume:

You can't actually communicate the smell or the qualities of a specific perfume in a TV/print ad.

So, fragrance commercials have to rely on something completely different.

✨Vibes✨
A fragrance doesn't technically *do* anything.

So, instead of showcasing the product, advertisers create commercials to evoke specific emotions.

In fact, the parts of the brain that deal with emotion, memory, and motivation all grew out of the olfactory cortex.
That's why we develop core memories and deep emotional connections alongside specific smells.

So what do advertisers do when they want to use that brain-nose connection to sell you a new product?

They emphasize the emotional power of scent as it relates to sex.
After all, sex sells, right?

But it's a delicate balance. The commercials try to imply that the fragrance will make you more sexually attractive. That's why many of these ads show:

- Beautiful people
- Revealing clothing
- Beautiful settings
- Heavy eyelids and slow blinking

According to ad industry veteran @jweltman, there's actually a specific reason for the blinking.

In a pizza commercial, the "moneyshot" is that classic cheese pull. It serves as a visual metaphor for the taste and feel of the pizza.

Fragrance commercials have a similar moment.
In fragrance commercials, the equivalent "moneyshot" is heavy eyelids and slow blinking.

It's this industry's visual metaphor for satisfaction.

That's what helps communicate the experience of using a particular fragrance.
This is a formula that has worked consistently for years.

In fact, the strategy is so effective that several other companies have used it for other products with use cases that are hard to communicate.

5 Gum used it with their not-so-subtly-named "How it feels to chew 5 Gum".

So, if these fragrance commercials just follow the same playbook over and over again, who's breaking the mold?

One of my favorites is an ad by Prada, directed by Wes Anderson and starring Léa Seydoux.

It's a series of perfume ads that all follow a single storyline.
That's right, it tells an ACTUAL story.

In it, Candy is the beautiful protagonist who's being pursued by best friends, Gene and Julius.

Even though the two men are constantly fighting for her adoration, neither man gives up the pursuit.

The series of ads tells a story of romance, seduction, and competition.

Candy is portrayed as the perfect woman, whose charm and joie de vivre captivate the men.

But in the end, Candy is seen leaving the salon, victorious, with BOTH men on her arm.
The Prada ad reassures us of the one thing we all secretly hope to be true:

That you really can have your cake AND eat it, too.

But only with the help of a little Prada Candy perfume 😉
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The psychology of smell. Solid thread, amazing examples, and so well written. Must read for anyone interested in marketing psychology…