Advertising has always been skewed in favor of the… attractive. I suppose that’s the right word, after all advertisements are always intending to show you an ideal, to sell you some product by encouraging you to buy into a dream, a fantasy, and this is fine so long as we only see it as such. Perfume and clothing companies are perhaps the most obvious instances where this is done. Where “attractive” men and women pose or lounge in positions that sell you an image of the product on offer, an aesthetic which should construct, and make you identify with, their brand within a split second. You look and Wham! They’ve got you.
Creating and maintaining brand identity will eat up a substantial chunk of any fashion retailer’s budget… and with good reason. Think about it, you look at a billboard and you can’t experience the product, not really, sure you can see it but you can’t sample it right there and then. Unless you’re looking at an advert for a painting then you’re stuck, instead the imagery provided needs to motivate you to seek out the product. This is especially true in the case of perfume. When you really think about it perfume adverts are ridiculous. One would assume that the real charm of any perfume would be the scent, posing quite the stumper for any advertising executive who must communicate that very tangible, subjective quality that just can’t be transmited by television or billboard.
At any shop counter or in any magazine this poses no problem; offer to spray your customers with No. whatever or include a small sample. Problem sort of solved. I say sort of because these are always combined with images, and perfume advertising has become so ubiquitous now that I find myself wanting to like a perfume because of the advert. Seems topsy turvy, but it is true. Madame, or Ma Dame by Jean Paul Gaultier stands out as a notable example of a perfume where this happened. I did like the scent when I tried it but it wasn’t something I would have normally chosen. Nevertheless the imagery of the advert, an attitude laden Agnes Deyn if I remember correctly, came into my view via the television screen at exactly the time when I was considering mixing it up a bit.
That advert communicated everything I was looking for, suggesting a change of image and lots of attitude. I have no attitude, never have and still don’t, at least not the sort that advert was putting across and yet when I went to sample that perfume I know deep down that I wanted to like it. As I’ve said I did like it but I find that, generally in life, if you’re in the mood to like something then you usually do, and that makes companies that employ this type of advertising damn clever in my book.
So what to do? Well nothing really, we’re all susceptible to advertising whether we admit it or not, I mean they wouldn’t spend all that money if it didn’t generally work. But there is a darker side to advertising, which is why I say that it is important to view adverts as only a passing dream or fancy. Once you’ve bought the perfume or jeans it is imperative that the image that inspired you to do so shouldn’t stay with you. There’s been a lot of concern in the press regarding the pressures placed on individuals, especially teenage girls, to conform to certain “ideals”; usually communicated through advertising or the fashion industry however this message really ought to be a consideration for everyone. Bear in mind, with clothing especially, that you won’t wear the product like the figure in the magazine did, and that new jeans (or a new smell for that matter) won’t transform you into him or her. No one can look like that because no one was ever supposed to, or ever could without a lot of help (and even then only in picture form). It isn’t really a person you’re looking at, it’s a construction that testifies to a considerable expenditure of time and money.
John Keats wrote Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. This may resonate with us in some way but, where advertising is concerned we must pride ourselves on not believing that every image we are presented with demonstrates how we should be. We have much more awareness now of the hard work and editing that creates these visions of perfection, yet it remains difficult not to feel just a twinge of guilt or a pang of envy. If you find yourself flicking through the pages of a fashion magazine or confronted with television advertising and that pressure creeps up then try to remember, s/he may be gorgeous, but that figure isn’t real, and you are.