Which explains the often embarrassing excesses of fragrance advertising.
Notwithstanding the importance, as perfumers put it, of "having the juice," brands find themselves succeeding or failing substantially on the power of image. Thus, like the blind man whose hearing acuity is heightened, perfume marketers seek to stimulate those non-olfactory senses the television gives them access to: sight, sound and libido. Thus is the category, more than any other, fundamentally sensual.
And thus is it, more than any other, fundamentally overwrought.
Erotic, enigmatic and surreal: this describes almost all fragrance advertising, the good, the bad and the stinky. Certainly it describes the TV introduction, in Europe, of Laura Biagiotti's Roma Uomo eau de toilette for men from Eurocos.
The sepia-toned spot opens with a handsome young guy in what looks to be a vintage Ferrari motoring through Rome toward the Colosseum. As he arrives, he glances to his left and sees, silhouetted on the ancient walls, the shadows of chanting spectators, on their feet, their arms raised in a rhythmically repeating salute. Their words are obscured, but they may be chanting "Roma."
Or is it "Il duce!"? Hard to tell.
Then, between a couple of pillars, a gorgeous, semiorgasmic brunette emerges. Then a giant, billowing sheet of white fabric-perhaps a refugee from a U.S. Loose-fitting Levi's commercial-materializes from nowhere and threatens to envelop the handsome hero. So, as the shadow figures continue ritualistically to chant and salute, and as the brunette gets ever closer to her Climax of Ancient Ruin, the guy attacks the fabric with a maul.
Prevailing triumphantly, he throws his head back in glory over his conquest of the sinister bedsheet. The woman smiles. The silhouettes chant and extends their arms. And the voiceover says, "The eternal power of man. Laura Biagiotti Roma Uomo eau de toilette for men."
It is not fair to dismiss the spot from The Chelsea Partnership, London, simply for being annoyingly ambiguous and pretentious, because so is all the competition. Besides, one man's annoying ambiguity is another man's tantalizing mystery. It is fair, however, to be taken aback by the choice of imagery.
Call me oversensitive, but when I see a stadium full of Italians extending their arms in a ritualistic salute, I don't think, as the Roma Uomo press release suggests, "flair and vitality, combining timeless elegance with masculine power." I think: fascist rally. I think brown shirts and black hearts. I think, on this, the 50th anniversary of the allied invasion of Europe, of Mussolini.
Maybe this is what the press release means when it describes Roma Uomo as "the fragrance of men with the charisma to motivate."
That Benito could certainly motivate. Toss in brown-toned film, the armed-to-conquer scenario and the current rise of European neo-fascism, and what emerges is not invigorating sensual elegance but rather a chilling reminder of the eternal power of Axis symbology.
It is difficult to imagine that any such imagery was intentional, but it is equally difficult to believe the ad makers could be so blind to the parallels. But so zealous were they in overcoming a TV signal that viewers cannot smell, perhaps, that they produced fascist imagery they themselves could not see.
The rating system
The rating system uses four stars to represent excellent, three for notable, two for mediocre and one for pathetic.