Sexuality, sensuality, and innuendo are integral elements of French media. This is made evident through French perfume advertisements and their prevalence in French media. In the world of fashion and marketing, advertising is an imperative tool as it is one of the biggest sources of revenue in media, and French perfume advertisements are particularly significant in that respect. Continuously transforming, advertisements are typically a reflection of current cultural tendencies and styles. Progression and alterations in French perfume advertisements throughout the 1900s perfectly illustrate how changes in French cultural perspectives concerning sexuality and gender stereotypes have transpired over time.
Perfume plays a significant role in French culture, as throughout history, France has become the epicenter of perfume manufacturing. Perfume has a long history, but the perfume most commonly used today was developed and initially produced approximately 300 years ago in a small coastal town called Grasse in the south of France. Whether it is through food, fashion, media, etc., quality is paramount in French culture. Thus, it is no surprise that in Grasse, traditional methods for producing perfume are still employed to preserve the caliber of French perfumes. Hence, French perfumes are renowned and universally regarded as luxury items. The prestigious reputation of French perfume corresponds to the elaborate, opulent advertisements produced by perfume manufacturers.
Due to the importance of perfume in French history and culture, it is to be expected that perfume is ubiquitous in almost every type of media. Whether it is in magazines, on television, in newspapers, or on the internet, it is inevitable that one will come across a perfume advertisement. French perfume advertisements aim to evoke emotion, fascinate, and almost seduce consumers rather than focus on being informative or humorous. This demonstrates how the French society cultivates an inquisitive, sophisticated mentality that honors looking deeper into and contemplating media, uncovering the underlying meaning of a message, and encourages sensuality. Clearly, advertisers have been successful in their endeavors through marketing because by 2008, perfume advertisements evolved into such a crucial part of French media that it developed into a $10 billion industry. Although French certain perfume advertisements may be lucrative in France, this does not assure that they will be successful received elsewhere.
Differing cultural tendencies, as well as technological and social progression, affect the way campaigns are designed, produced, and accepted among potential consumers in various countries. For example, the way that one ad is received in France may be completely different than that of the United States. In the case of Chanel’s men’s fragrance “Eogoiste” in 1994, Chanel initially produced an advertising campaign through branding, packaging, and marketing, with the intention that it would be universally accepted. However, consumers in the United States found the commercial (which features beautiful French women flinging open windows of a hotel and crying "egoiste" as they raged at men's selfishness) offensive, violent, and overall distasteful. In the United States, after introducing this campaign, the brand held only a one percent market share. Yet, in Europe the advertisement was successful and “Egoiste” eventually became the fifth largest men's fragrance brand in France. This controversial commercial was received differently among American and French audiences, thus reflecting the differences in values and societal expectations between the two cultures. Although cultural differences can hinder the success of a perfume campaign, some campaigns and fragrances have attained universalsuccess. For instance, one particular perfume that has remained globally marketable for almost a century is Chanel No. 5.
Chanel No. 5 is an iconic French perfume, noted as being one of the most recognizable and “legendary” fragrances in the world. First marketed in 1921, this fragrance is still successfully sold due to its avant-garde, seductive advertisements. Although the advertisements are known for being sensual, they are by no means tasteless and were often commended for being classy and sophisticated.
Prior to the 1970s, advertisements aimed towards women focused on encouraging them to use fragrances to entice men. However, advertising took a turn in the 1970s as a result of social and political changes for women across the western hemisphere. Rather than objectifying women as sexual objects, which is often seen in French fragrance advertisements, Chanel advertisements aim to glorify female sexuality, sensuality, and female empowerment. This was visible in perfume advertisements, specifically in Chanel’s 1979 campaign for Chanel No. 5 entitled “Share The Fantasy”. The success of this campaign through print and television media, as mentioned by brand researcher William Baue, "became a defining moment for the French fragrance and company's fashion advertising." In particular, he is referring to a commercial in which a beautiful woman in laying by a pool, a handsome man proceeds to dive in, swims towards her, rises out of the water, and ultimately disappears. William Baue says that in the creation of the advertisement, “Focusing on fantasy allowed Chanel to harness the power of sexuality without crossing the border into distaste”. Although Chanel upheld sophistication in their campaigns, the same cannot be said for all French perfume advertisements based on social changes and different demographics to which a manufacturer is marketing.
Sexuality, romance and innuendo are fundamental aspects of French culture and as such, these elements are clearly prevalent in perfume advertisements. Nudity is often utilized and gender stereotypes tend to be heavily accentuated. For example, in the 2009 advertisement for Yves Saint Laurent Perfume "Parisienne", the clear and provocative representation of Kate Moss as a sex object cannot go unnoticed as trivial.
As noted by Tom Reichert, author of The Erotic History of Advertising Aromatic Aphrodisiacs: Fragrance, “Sexual content in fragrance advertising is manifest in the usual ways: as models showing skin-chests and breasts, open shirts, tight-fitting clothing-and as dalliances involving touching, kissing, embracing, and voyeurism. These outward forms of sexual content are often woven into the explicit and implicit sexual … promises to make the wearer more sexually attractive, more likely to engage in sexual behavior, or simply ‘feel’ more sexy for one's own enjoyment.” These ideas have been created from notions of French society. Thus, advertisers are translating the stereotypes and consumers’ desires into images their consumers will understand and gravitate towards when looking to purchase perfumes.