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Advertising: Throwing us off the scent

Lancome's Tresor
Successfully selling a perfume is 99 per cent about image, and one per cent about smell. Which is why most perfume ads plump for images of style and glamour above suggestions of sensation or mood. Look at this Christmas' TV commercial for Lancome's fragrance Tresor and it's easy to see why.

We see a close-up of the face of a delicate-featured young woman. Her peaches-and-cream complexion is framed by chestnut hair. She is softly lit and dressed in white, or pink, or cream - it doesn't matter, really, as the desired effect is the same: ageless, timeless beauty.

The camera cuts to a close-up of five pink roses standing in a row, all soft and fragrant. Then back to the woman whose expression has changed. Now she looks vaguely concerned. In fact her right eye is welling. Whether this is with emotion or due to an untimely outbreak of hay fever, it's hard to say.

Luckily, relief is at hand. Literally. A man's arm comes into view, his hand reaching towards her cheek. Sadly, he's forgotten the tissue but he does gently cup her face. She smiles. Delicately. Tresor from Lancome. It's the perfume of treasured moments, you see. Or maybe you don't. Because let's face it, the image is daft and says next to nothing about the product - like whether it's light and grassy, or deep and musky.

Not that you can blame, Publicis, the multinational advertising agency behind the ad. Much. Created in Paris, this commercial (like most for French-made fragrances) must work internationally. Images must therefore be universally translatable - no complexities like character-isation or dialogue, here - and guaranteed not to cause offence. Trouble is, the end result for many is bland and uniform. Or just plain nonsense.

Take another ad currently on air for the classic fragrance, Chanel No 5. A beautiful couple stroll along a beach. The lighting is soft and watery- looking. Their clothes white, or pink or cream. She hears a sound and turns to see an orchestra rise out of the sea, mid-serenade. She laughs (a little too hard) and continues her stroll. The man walks on oblivious.

US-made fragrances have attempted to break this mould. cKone has played up cult and androgyny. It's about attitude and individualism rather than pastel-coloured emotion. Which is a relief, but equally nonsensical. Take Hugo Boss for Women: "Innovate don't imitate," grins the blonde with the gap-toothed grin. Of course we will, dear - by all wearing the same brand as our men.