Written by Flora Joll, Senior Strategist at Now.
I do not mean to suggest by this that more constraints encourage better creative work as a rule of thumb. Whether you are an Adam Morgan fan or not, the concept of strategic constraints is generally accepted to help focus thinking and ultimately liberate ideas. The clearest – and most extreme – illustration of this is the perfume category, because it confuses unconstrained thinking with unconstrained ideas, and unconstrained briefs.
As a strategist working with businesses trying to create good work on shrinking budgets and timelines that the right people might actually see, perfume ads really grind my gears. The phenomenal Twitter account, PerfumeAdsforSale creates parody ads that could all be real, showing just how formulaic they can be.
The bizarre epics we are subjected to on telly over Christmas are not suffering from budget constraints. If Dior can afford to hire Johnny Depp to bury all his jewellery in a hole in the desert and then stare down a wolf to somehow be more Sauvage, then they can employ someone to ask questions like “Why?” and “What am I meant to do after watching this?”.
They can afford to work with incredibly influential people like Charlize Theron and Julia Roberts, and yet they then let opportunities to actually make a cultural point slip by. Both women have made career decisions that indicate they have fine brains and admirable principles, but instead they were asked to jump into a puddle and to fiddle with some diamonds in order to evoke the scent of feminine allure, or something.
In order to change this, one of these brands could make a change by reviewing a current abundance as a constraint: think about people differently. By entertaining the notion that their audience’s attention – and emotions – may not be entirely captured, think what could happen to the work. Perfume is inherently linked to identity, desire and attraction. Imagine if Chanel and Armani started creating visual worlds you actually want to smell because they enabled us to glimpse something fundamentally human in a way that actually felt relevant. Just imagine.
Kenzo seemed to have done just that, they created a gleam of hope when Spike Jonze made that wonderful film that broke all category conventions. However, without some kind of strategy to harness that bonkers brilliance and follow that ad up with something, that spark of an idea will remain where it is: being ripped off by pop stars for their latest music video.
Kenzo showed that perfume is capable of the right kind of unconstrained thinking. The category just needs a bit more like it to tip the balance away from parody and back into the business of creating visual feasts that capture our imaginations.