Monday, September 7, 2009

An Open Letter to the Brilliant Men and Women in the Marketing Department

To Whom It May Concern,

Or does it concern you?

It concerns me. You're really boring me these days, and fine, while I know I'm not at the top of your priority list, I don't think I'm all that atypical when it comes to the general perfume buying public, if there is such a thing anymore, except that I buy about ten times (okay, thirty) as much as the average consumer.

Okay, fifty.

I just want to bring some things to your attention, though the idea that I might have to baffles me. I imagine you all in your boardrooms, sipping lattes, with testing strips fanned out before you. For a while you talk about Anna's baby. How cute! Grows like a weed. You talk about a little dish you picked up in Soho, a chicly dressed woman who told you to screw off when you took her cab--accidentally! You talk about the scarf Gina's wearing. Or Gene. Gene wears scarves, too. Eventually, you move on to Michael Jackson. When are they going to BURY that guy? Enough already. I mean, please. Then you feel embarrassed for entering Michael Jackson into the same elevated company as perfume--but don't, because, I can assure you, you have other things to be embarrassed about.

It does, it baffles me that in these conversations, you wouldn't take into consideration some of the things I'd like to point out to you here. I have to believe you're not discussing them. Why else would you keep making the same mistakes? Surely you lovely people aren't that stupid.

Let me just jump right in. Can you stop making bottles that look like the Avon collectibles my grandmother used to keep boxed in the attic. Those bottles were always more than half full, I should point out, because while a fragrance in the shape of a vintage red roadster might strike one as a fun idea in the catalog, it very quickly starts looking like a bad idea once you set it out on your bathroom shelf. Try holding it in your hand. Who besides my uncle Orville wants to spray him/herself with Roadster? I'm sure there are many women who like these decorative bottles. Some of them must be above the age of twelve. Many more women must find them absolutely cheap and silly, an embarrassment and an insult for the price of money they cost. I won't name names. Some of you people might actually have these bottles out on your own dresser. But as a rule, plastic gold trimming (meant to look like metal quilting, precious ornamentation, et al), rhinestones, scrolled caps which are bigger than the bottles themselves, hearts, and faeries are the kinds of things Barbie adorns her dream house with, and sometimes her pony. Barbie isn't actually a real person.

Can you please stop asking models to make love to themselves in print ads and media clips? It's kind of awkward. A little uncomfortable. I'm sure more than one woman has looked at a curiously shaped bottle and gotten some ideas, but remember what they say about printing how-to bomb instructions online: someone might get hurt. I don't know. I'm just not the kind of person who likes to see Kate Moss, or anyone really, masturbate in a limo. I'm not naive. I know Kate Moss probably does masturbate. I know I do, and I wouldn't want to deprive her of that, but when I choke the chicken, it isn't in the grocery aisle. Something to think about.

Do you realize how stupidly Biblical you guys are when it comes to cultivating the fantasy life around fragrance? You depict women pretty strictly as either virgins or whores. Why so misogynistic? It's like you can't picture a woman doing much of anything if she isn't pleasuring herself or writhing around like an animal in heat on a bed of roses. Are any of you women? Do any of you have mothers? The women in my family are pretty complex, and from talking to them, I don't get the idea that in their imaginary lives they aspire to featured actresses in badly filmed soft core porn.

This brings us to men, some of whom, yes, I like naked. But again, very awkward in a magazine. If I'm going to get hot and bothered, personally, I like my naked men in the flesh. And please, can you find interesting men to serve as spokesmodels? Justin Timberlake is funny. I like his d*!ck in a box. But I want something with a little more depth and character selling me fantasy. Here are some suggestions, and I'd be more than happy to help you look into their availability: Gael Garcia Bernal, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Gael Garcia Bernal. If it's sex you're trying to sell, choosing someone like Bernal really makes your job easier. Photograph his lips. There. That's done. Include his eyes and you add something approaching inner life. I'm not feeling that with a boy band crooner in a tux.

Stop playing watchdog and start paying attention to the bloggers and their audiences. This is where I really start empathizing with ya'll. See, you read something like "ya'll" and you think, oh goodness, how do we deal with these yokels out on the internet. Let's throw them little bones. You throw your bones while imagining there are still lines of power and control you can keep firmly delineated. Do you realize how democratic everything's become? Do you not see how influential bloggers have become? It's not a matter of getting us press releases, I can assure you. The idea that you're still able to imagine yourselves as omnipotent, the fact you haven't truly gathered how profoundly the market and the game has changed verges on heartbreaking. It's like you go home every night to watch Mad Men and believe it all still works that way. In your offices you decide and decree how it's all going to go down? You're cute as bunnies. I almost feel I should be protecting YOU.

Here's the thing. People who love perfume read the blogs almost fanatically because what they're getting is more often than not an honest opinion, expressed with enthusiasm and style, however crude the style can sometimes be. They know they'll never, ever get that from you, which puts you at a definite disadvantage. Let us help you. Admitting your relative powerlessness is the first step. I know, it's ironic: for decades you people have divested yourself of anything which becomes more specific or particular than a bottom line, believing that abiding by the lowest common denominator wins you in immediate sales what you lose in long term loyalty. Bless your hearts.

Visit these sites and pay attention to the comments. The people who buy your product are pretty sharp, generally savvy, artsy, somewhat evolved, versed in high and low culture alike. I wouldn't argue that all of us are the sharpest bulbs in the box, but as a whole we're smarter than the average Doberman. We read Nathan Branch because he's funny and says what we're all thinking at various points. We read NowSmellThis because anything that's happening will be reported there, with an opportunity for us to voice our own honest opinions about it. Pieredepierre, Scented Salamander, Perfume Smelling Things, One Thousand Scents, 1000 Fragrances, Perfume Posse, Vetivresse. You really should write these down. I'll wait.

Check out Olfactarama as a case in point. This is an intelligent, witty, no-bullshit perfume lover who happens to write very well, articulating, most recently (like today) how boring you all (i.e. ya'll) have become. She really counts the ways. I'm not sure she evaluates your success in terms of how convincingly Kate Moss masturbates. You should also check out Nathan Branch's photos, with your eyes open, for a sense of how beautiful perfume itself is (the packaging, the lines, the ideas, the inner glow) when done smartly, how little it takes to capture the allure and fantasy of fragrance, how little flesh is ultimately needed. Nathan knows that some people fall in love with perfume not because it reminds them of people dry humping in a field of tall grass but because they have complicated imaginations which can be sparked in simple (as opposed to simplistic) ways. Indie and niche perfumers recognize his value in moving their product. Sometimes he even gets free bottles. Hint, hint.

Sincerely (truly),

Your devoted servant


Tania said...

...... I'm sorry Brian, were you saying something? I was distracted by the Pocket Adonis up there.... ;-)

You're right. The perfume marketers need to wake up and smell the caffeinated beverage. Their campaigns are embarrassing.
And when even newspapers have noted the preponderance of perfume blogs, why haven't more marketing departments taken heed?

dea said...

watch out! stand back!
can i get a witness! Good lord!

ScentScelf said...

Right on! Witness, right here!!

Well, I might say Clive Owen, Clive Owen, Clive Owen, but I'll take off my scarf and not interrupt your delivery. ;)

dea said...

as an aside- i read an article where bernal and diego luna were lamenting that they didn't have much luck with the ladies...Bernal said 'it's because my head is so huge in real life' and Diego said 'i'm much smaller than women expect.'

i thought it was funny.

though not nearly as funny as staring at a pic of him on the toilet.

Ines said...

Wow! Very true and at the same time very frustrating. But hopefully eye opening for some marketing department Gene as well. :)

Unknown said...

Hell yeah. Perfectly put.

Unknown said...

Boy, that's some intense writing! I was giggling all the way through (after I was able to tear my eyes away from GGB up there - why hello, bedroom eyes) and still felt taken along in the just indignation of it all. Bravo.

Nathan Branch said...

"Stop playing watchdog and start paying attention to the bloggers and their audiences. This is where I really start empathizing with ya'll. See, you read something like "ya'll" and you think, oh goodness, how do we deal with these yokels out on the internet."

That just about made me fall over onto the floor in laughter, mainly because it's so true!

Marketing departments act simultaneously terrified and horrified of bloggers, as if we're all just one breakdown away from wearing someone else's skin for a suit.

And amen on the Kate Moss writhing in the back of a limo thing. That recent Guerlain Shalimar ad was just embarrassing. I half expected a legion of feminists to kick down my door and confiscate my computer for even watching the darn clip -- and they would have been fully justified if they'd done so.

We have a class of creatives and intellectuals who can conceive of, and produce, the likes of The Stepford Wives, yet give the bulk of them an assignment on perfume advertising and we wind up with virgin/whore . . . ?

Btw: thanks for the nods. You're very kind.

Nina Z. said...

I’m kinda surprised that this upsets you so much. I mean, I don’t like mainstream books, movies, or music, so I don’t expect to like mainstream fragrances or the advertisements for them, either. I was thrilled to recently discover the perfume blogs, where I have learned about all kinds of niche fragrances I previously had no idea existed, and since then I’ve been having a field day trying all kinds of exotic new stuff.

Trust me, things were definitely not better back in the day, when all of us bought our perfume at local department stores and pharmacies. Yes, maybe some of the mainstream fragrances back then were made with higher quality ingredients, but there weren’t as many choices (and who wants to smell like everyone else?) and as far as the ads went, well, only white people were permitted in them back then and women weren’t even allowed to satisfy themselves but had to “entrap” a man into marriage or be doomed for life.

So, Brian, I wouldn’t really expect someone of your refinement to like the same things that unsophisticated consumers are attracted to. And I’m very glad you don’t! Because I am checking your blog every day in the hopes of reading something about the offbeat things that you do love. And the wonderful writing of people like you encourages me to keep going with my work on the very non-mainstream novel I’m currently writing.

Brian said...

Oh I don't know how much it upsets me, if I have a sense of humor about it. Some of it is mock indignation, Nina. And I love that you see me as refined! You did see the picture of Gael on the toilet, right? If not, don't look. I'm refined. I'm refined. I swear!

I still don't see many women of color in fragrance ads. And actually I think there used to be more selection at the mall--even six months ago. The amount of slimming down Sephora has done, just as an example, is pretty depressing: no more Hermes, very little if any Cartier.

I actually love a lot of mainstream scents. Not a snob at all about that. All of the fragrances that caused me to fall in love with perfume were things my sister and her friends bought at the department store. Coco, Anais Anais, Giorgio, Paris, Poison, Lou Lou, Liz Claiborne. Look, if one of my only choices back then had been Poison, I would gladly have smelled like everyone else.

Even six months ago I could find all the guerlains, old and new, at the mall here. Now they've liquidated them. I think what fascinates me, and amuses me, and annoys me, is that rather than develop alongside the niche lines and indie lines, commercial perfumery seems to be regressing.

I think women were always pleasuring themselves in those ads, right? Sometimes they were just doing it below the frame. You saw it in their eyes, or were meant to. I'm all for the right to pleasure. But scent/smell is so complicated, such an amazingly intricate sensory experience. And it seems like everybody knows this. So why do we keep selling sex and if it's the only faculty people have when it comes to fantasy life.

Here I go again.


Trish said...

"people fall in love with perfume not because it reminds them of people dry humping in a field of tall grass but because they have complicated imaginations which can be sparked in simple (as opposed to simplistic) ways"


moongrrl said...

"Even six months ago I could find all the guerlains, old and new, at the mall here. Now they've liquidated them. I think what fascinates me, and amuses me, and annoys me, is that rather than develop alongside the niche lines and indie lines, commercial perfumery seems to be regressing."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Anonymous said...

Well said all the way.
-- Gretchen

Emma said...

Bravo Brian. Fabulous great, big juicy piece of writing. Made my day.

ggs said...

So true!! Loved this post AND your sense of humor. Having met some perfumers, I do see the confusion in their eyes about the uber-consumers and the blogs.
"Bless their hearts." HA!

I used to work in marketing many moons ago, and I would have loved to have the free (!) and easy access to consumer feedback we have today on the internet. Hell, we PAID people to give us feedback---focus groups, telephone research, yada, yada. So what if the bloggers are unusually _informed_ consumers. That's an important market to hear from.

In my current field, I see corporate marketing people getting trapped in their "silos" at the home office and not getting out to look & listen in the field. They claim they "test" pieces with customers, and once & awhile they ask us (field staff) what we need, but somehow we keep getting materials from them that don't really speak to our customer. Much of it ends up in the circular files...

Anonymous said...

Thank you!

Karen G.

CulDeSac said...

"So why do we keep selling sex and if it's the only faculty people have when it comes to fantasy life."

This annoys me too. I see both men and women being stereotyped, underestimated and harshly generalized in most advertisements. But I don't believe that this is a product of stupidity of laziness. It's strictly business. Sex is a primitive but powerful tool, used only because it sells. Nothing more to it. Once the majority of consumers start demanding something more meaningful, intelligent, truthful, artistic.. we'll get it. How about writing another letter to "Dear Consumers"? Raise your standards, demand quality, love yourself...

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear! Now that we have your attention, how about some f'in 15 ml bottles? You frag is great, but I couldn't possibly use it all before it goes rancid, and I don't need an irrigation system on my vanity. Hugs, -r

Brian said...

What and awesome idea, culdesac. I think I'll take you up on that suggestion.

CulDeSac said...

Brian, great, looking forward to it. Just think of all the women who are looking for "sex in a bottle" and it'll come to you. :)

btw, cool blog.

Anonymous said...

Better late than never - this post totally made my day! :-D