Ever noticed a woman so smitten by how a man smells, that she leaves all her dignity behind, only to find herself in his bed, the morning after?
That’s the stereotyped plot in almost every perfume ad we see.
However, the recent Layer’r Shot ads have left no stone unturned to prove that the objectification of women is only a small fish in the dead pond of creative ideas that the category encompasses. Now, it’s the glorification of rape culture!
Imagine a group of people sitting in a circle - brainstorming on the meaning of the word ‘shot’ and discussing how to weave it into their campaign, to be viewed during the airing of a match from one of the most respected sports in our country.
The ads not only brought to light the subconscious fear and disgust that a woman feels when surrounded by strange men who catcall her, but also made sure to tell her that she’s not safe, even around her partner.
Did the brainchild behind this ad think it would be humorous? That it would win an award for its innuendos? Perhaps, if there was a ‘Most Derogatory’ title to be awarded.
People all over social media were infuriated by the ads, with many industry folks blatantly calling them out. Finally, on 7 June, Layer'r Shot issued a 'statement of clarification', with little onus for the outcome the ads generated.
However, does that take away from the fact that ads like these might just influence some cohorts of men to pursue a woman who might not even be interested?
For years, we’ve seen different perfume ads like Axe Deodorant, Wild Stone, Old Spice and Beardo, casually objectifying women as subjects that could be pinned down by random men who smelled like spiced wood.
However, it would be unfair to say that all of them have only embarked upon exploiting the sexuality of a woman to make sales.
Wild Stone, another brand which didn't smell trouble for the longest time, rolled out a campaign for Wild Stone Code, in March 2022. This film featured a man complimenting another man for his perfume in an elevator. This ad, although non-sexual, made its point across just fine.
He Deodorants too, rolled out a campaign featuring actor Tiger Shroff. This again, was a smart campaign that gave across its message without making anyone a sex symbol.
In rarer ads like Titan’s Skinn, we see a man being drawn towards the scent of a woman, instead of it being the other way round.
Point is - brands and agencies can come up with brilliant ideas that don’t scare the daylights out of anyone or fill them with repugnance.
In 2016, Unilever, the FMCG giant that houses Axe Deodorant, rolled out a new global advertising strategy to put an end to sexism in its marketing content.
Even then, its ads from 2018, right up to 2022, although better, still show women swooning over a freshly 'Axed' male.
Do ads from perfume brands have to be sexual in nature? Can they be creative, without being vulgar?
Mostly, is all the science behind pheromones, reason enough to let a marketer pass the smell test?
PS: Women don't make life-altering decisions based on tones of fragrance. It would be great if marketers and advertisers walked the talk about what consumers (in this case women) really want - and that's definitely not a misconception that we're gullible enough to be tantalised by a bottle of perfume easily available at a drugstore.
After all these years of discussions and debates around the sensitisation of advertisements and the importance of slamming objectification, it’s safe to say that the perfume category has not learned much.
(The author is senior correspondent, Campaign India)