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The look of a scent

Viveka Kjellmer's doctoral thesis sheds light on the role of perfume advertisements as communicators of status, identity and values.

The thesis portrays pictures in perfume advertisements as actors rather than as passive tools, and dissects the dynamics of imagery. Kjellmer, who has a master's degree in business economics and worked for many years with advertising pictures and marketing in the advertisement agency and marketing communications environments, currently teaches art history and visual studies at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Perfume advertisements are full of interesting contradictions. For example, although the product is a scent, the ads rarely use scent symbolism. Perfume is a consumption good, yet the bottles are often depicted as pieces of art or as status symbols. The purpose of using perfume is to smell pleasant, yet the pictures tend to focus on entirely different things. But nevertheless, the ads do work.

The thesis studies the image of scent in perfume advertisements. Since the product - the scent - is invisible and therefore cannot be captured visually, its effects have to be illustrated using metaphors and imagery and the design of the only visible object connected to the product, namely the bottle. The paradox of illustrating something invisible opens up for analysis of motifs and associations used in the ads. The theoretical part of the study discusses the cultural history of perfume, from incense and scented oil in antiquity to modern use of fragrances, and what scents really are and how they affect us.

It also addresses the link between the perfume industry and the fashion industry, including the financial factors that influence perfume marketing and advertising. The empirical part deals with the pictures used in advertising, and explores how dreams are made. The thesis analyses how scents are depicted in perfume ads and how the images used interact with other ingredients - text and perfume name - in the ads. The findings lead to a discussion on motifs and imagery, and on how an advertising picture can communicate other things than objective information about the product.

Kjellmer concludes that the advertised images of scents have become far removed from the actual scents of the perfumes. In fact, the pictures address something completely different: the scent of beauty, success, attraction and money. Indeed, the pictures are tempting, but they say little about the character and content of the product. Thus, the purpose of the ads is not to be informative, but rather to be suggestive; they do not communicate what the perfume is, but instead what it can do for the person wearing it. Knowledge and information do not sell perfume, but dreams do. Dreams about something extraordinary, or dreams about expressing who we really are. Or maybe more correctly, dreams about who we want to be. And this is the function of the image as an actor - to create dreams, promises and possibilities.

Title of the thesis: The Image of Scent. On Image Communication in the World of Perfume Advertising
For more information please contact Viveka Kjellmer, e-mail:
Press information: Eva Englund
+46 31-786 1003

Helena Aaberg | idw
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