I’ve been in advertising or near it for a long time, and I’ve always found the fashion/cosmetic industry the most different animal in the ad world. It’s like they write their own rules. And that differentiation goes across all parts of that ad world, packaging to TV commercials.
In packaging, fashion manufacturers will go to any extent to outpace their competitors. They’ll use metallics and lenticulars to add a premium look and feel to that packaging, not to mention unique bottle styles and caps for cologne. Premium is what they aim for and they hit it.
I’m sure they do extensive testing to come up with new scents for cologne, new colors for makeup and lipstick, new brushes and formulations for mascara and eyeliner. And then have the consumer pay for all that new testing.
It’s not like pharma. The pharmaceutical industry’s research and testing goes way beyond what the fashion industry does. Drug research and testing with scores of trials, including FDA approvals, doesn’t really show up with regard to the way packaging is enhanced compared to fashion’s packages. Sure, the TV commercials are way more expensive, with actors and airtime.
And with regard to those commercials, pharma has a dialog with you, the viewer/consumer. There’s a human side with a spokesperson and/or actors in the ad for the product—say, Entresto, a prescription medicine for a heart condition—to tell you of its use and possible side effects, of course. But the ad is informative because of all the restrictions associated. It feels real.
Fashion doesn’t need all that. Fashion goes completely in the other direction. For them, less is more. And by that I mean many things, including what is not real.
Fashion enjoys a certain independence that is hard to quantify. The industry probably grabbed onto the position they have many decades ago. I don’t even know just when that was because there is no real documentation for this kind of history, but we can say that fashion has always maintained a level of sophistication over and above the common realm of advertising. For the makers of cologne, makeup and hair products, they feel their products—through a certain mystique— will inspire you to buy them, and by their use, lift your ego to the point that you will be transformed into a new you.
This kind of soft sell approach has allowed the fashion industry to use less—be it airtime and actors (and no spokespersons ever)—to do more—be it dream-like scenarios to play on your fantasy of the aforementioned transformation. It’s a highly romantic idea, borne of many decades of associative ideals promoted by legendary names such as Versace, Saint Laurent, and Dior.
It’s all they have, this mystique. But they use it to the nth degree. When you walk past the cosmetic department at Macy’s, with all that glass shelving holding all those cosmetics, the stools surrounding the counters with all those mirrors (all part of the glitz and glamor of an expensive salon), you see the attending clerks ready to whisk the customer away to that fantasy they’ve become accustomed to expect.
And part of that glitz and glamor is the expensive packaging, a large cost passed on to that customer. It’s all part of the mystique. The drama.
I watched a relatively new ad for Chanel’s new Gabrielle cologne, featuring Kristen Stewart. The ad is entirely abstract in its dream-like atmosphere, with a girl running away from (or to) an unknown destiny, to the tune “Runnin’ (Lose It All)” as sung by Beyoncé. The ad is terrible, with its cheap soundstage and effects that would make any CGI-capable studio like Disney or Pixar laugh. Even Stewart’s leggy flailing into a distant light is clumsy. The whole thing comes off like a high school play with the actor suspended by wires.
And at the end of the ad, here’s this still of the cologne bottle against a white background. Not even part of the cinematography. Cheap.
But buyers of this product won’t care a smidgeon. For them, the drama is already ensconced in their mind. For them, they have to buy Gabrielle to see where it takes them.