Fragrance houses deliver a foul-smelling message


The U.S. fragrance industry brings in $5.2 billion annually by using advertisements that sell beauty and eschew brains.

I have a couple of freshman classes where I teach communications skills. My high school students dabble in public speaking and share stories and messages via print, radio, video, and digital design.

Recently, they were working on video commercials, projects that required them to identify their target audience, pick a product, design an original advertisement by creating scripts and storyboards, direct, shoot, and act, then edit their video into 30-second spots that incorporate music and graphics.

The project is a long and complicated process. As an enticement, I explain that people who can create successful marketing campaigns are in high demand and do extremely well, as far as their bank accounts are concerned. (The money angle is one that often motivates my students, and I am not shy about using the method.)

Part of the project’s process consists of my student teams convincing me that they recognize what the target audience wants. That’s what I had in mind when I saw the Versace Bright Crystal perfume ad. A very young-looking blond, preternaturally thin, clad in a silver-sequined sheath, enters a darkened room clutching a cut-glass bottle filled with amber liquid. She stares into the container as if searching for all the answers in the universe. Then, she reclines on a silky couch, where we are treated to a close-up of her strappy silver spikes, as she rubs her legs together. After which, in an apparent orgasmic frenzy, she caresses her face and neck with the bottle.


I get that the target audience is supposed to be young women, since they wear the stuff. But the ad seems directed at men, who perhaps might be enticed to purchase the potion in the hope of transforming their significant other into the lovely, writhing, nymph. (Sure, gentlemen, that’ll work.)

I popped on my reporter’s cap and looked into who perfumers are selling to, which led me to a whole bunch of weird fragrance advertisements, all containing the prerequisite slim, stunning women and big blast of sexual innuendo.

Then I paused and wondered why these ads were annoying me.

Here’s the thing. We live in a bright new age where we are supposed to value girls and women for their minds and achievements. Then there’s the Me Too movement that points a big bad finger at those who have perpetrated sexual abuse against our sisters, wives, mothers, and daughters. And yet, we still have ads like Versace’s flooding our media feeds. Messages often displaying terribly young-looking hyper-sexualized actors, besotted with a product that insinuates they are easily infatuated with mindless pursuits, ads that imply females are worthy only in regard to their beauty and sexiness.

The problem is, and I hate to say this, these advertisements work. The U.S. fragrance industry brings in $5.2 billion annually. The advertisers creating these commercials are getting paid a ton of money for their ability to identify just what that target audience wants.

Ugh! How do I explain this to my students?



Anne Montgomery’s latest novel, The Scent of Rain, tells the story of two Arizona teenagers whose fates become intertwined. Rose flees into the mountains to escape from her abusive polygamous community where her only future is marriage to a man older than her father. Adan, whose only wish is to be reunited with his mother, is on the run from the cruelties of the foster care system. Are there any adults they can trust? Can they even trust each other?  The Scent of Rain is available at and wherever books are sold.











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