Advertisement campaigns in the fashion and beauty industry are less about the product and more about the extravagance of the imagery or video. Especially where perfume ads are concerned, there’s no denying that we often see less of the tangible bottle, and more of everything else in that one frame, be it a nude body scattered on satin sheets or random imagery unlinked to the campaign.

Does that work more than a conventional still-life shot of a bottle? Do we, as consumers, want to see more sultry, hyped and digitally created imagery as opposed to a regular video?

The artistic elements of perfume ad campaigns have been married with subtle components of the pornographic industry, and this is putting the watchdogs on fire. We’re in a time where the perfume advertisements are talked about more than the fragrance or the face of the brand, whether it’s a Hollywood sweetheart or a top model.

It might be considered a clever marketing strategy, in the business world, but in the last decade itself, we’ve seen some of the industry’s top perfume brands stamped with a broadcast ban. takes a scented trip down memory lane, PG rated or not!

madonna banned perfume ad

Madonna Truth or Dare

I know I shouldn’t act this way. I know, I know…
Good girls don’t misbehave, but I’m a bad girl.

As these lyrics echo in the background of this advertisement, you know that Madonna isn’t going to release a fragrance without hype around it. The 53-year-old’s debut fragrance is creating more buzz around the cleavage seen in the advertisement than the actual scent.

Disney-owned network, ABC, has banned the advertisement to be broadcasted before 9pm on American TV. New York Post reports, “[ABC] want her bra digitally made bigger, and to extend higher to cover more of her chest, and her corset longer to cover more of her bottom. ABC also wants to cut another suggestive scene where Madonna writhes around”.

The 30-second advert features Madonna in fishnet stockings and a patent leather mask, lying across on a dressing table. Ironically though, Truth or Dare is inspired by Madonna’s mother, as its notes remind the singer of her childhood. Perhaps, that brief didn’t go through to the director of the commercial.

Beyonce Heat

It’s sultry, hot, oiled, sensual and banned by the Advertisement Standards Authority in UK.

When the singer’s first fragrance, Beyonce Heat, came out in 2010, its advertisement campaign was considered too raunchy to be aired before 7.30pm on UK TV. The video features the musician singing along to the beat of ‘Fever’ and dancing against a wall in a satin red dress. It set the temperature soaring, even in the feedback headquarters of the perfume company that forced a subsequent ban.

ASA released a statement, “Beyoncé’s body movements and the camera’s prolonged focus on shots of her dress slipping away to partially expose her breasts created a sexually provocative ad that was unsuitable to be seen by young children”.

Calvin Klein Secret Obsession

This classic scent stands for its powerful, sensual and passionate notes, and so does its ad campaign. After Kate Moss used her innocent sensuality to popularise Secret Obsession, Eva Mendes became the new ambassador in 2008 and then received a ban for her new campaign video.

Shot by Steven Meisel, this black and white advertisement shows an all-nude Mendes with several intended nip slips and exposed bottom camera pans. Every American Television networks refused to broadcast the advertisement, even the censored version.

President and Chief Executive Officer of Calvin Klein, Tom Murry, was quoted on WWD saying, “We believe the commercial is exceptional and hits the mark for Secret Obsession. We will reach our consumers in the US primarily through the website, the print campaign and at point of sale. We are anticipating a very successful global launch”.

Marc Jacobs Oh Lola!

It’s not just provocative videos that have been deemed too risqué for the advertising watchdogs, as print campaigns have also been recipients of an outlaw.

UK’s Advertising Standard Authority banned baby-faced Dakota Fanning’s ‘Oh Lola!’ Marc Jacobs perfume ad over claims for portraying children in sexual manner. Dakota is seen in a beige and white crepe polka dot dress holding the perfume bottle. While some would see the pink and purple extravagant bottle to be placed on her lap, others would say it’s “between her legs”.

ASA went with the latter and backed up the ban with the following statement, “We understood the model was 17 years old but we considered she looked under the age of 16. We considered that the length of her dress, her leg, and position of the perfume bottle drew attention to her sexuality. Because of that, along with her appearance, we considered the ad could be seen to sexualise a child”.

oh lola banned marc jacobs ad

YSL Belle d’Opium

What might seem like the fashion industry’s attempt at a contemporary dance or martial arts performance to the general public, the censor board sees it as something more dangerous.

British Advertising Standards Authority said this Yves Saint Laurent advert appeared to show a woman stimulating and participating in drug use. They said the image of French actress, Melanie Thierry, running her finger down her inner arm could be interpreted as an injection of opiates into the body. Even her movement across the room in rapid motion was linked to the simulation of after-drug effects.

YSL Opium

This is an oldie, but the most significant one! Going back to the start of the century, Tom Ford directed the ad campaign for YSL’s Opium fragrance starring Sophie Dahl, and stirred a serious controversy in UK.

The UK’s ASA received 948 complaints since the release of the ad, making it the eighth most complained about British ad campaign in history.

The image of a white-painted Dahl, lying on her back, was believed to be “sexually suggestive” and advertised in an untargeted medium, being billboard ads across UK. The advertisement, however, was permitted to appear in women’s magazines.

sophie dahl opium ad

The question to be asked about all these ads is whether the provocativeness of a campaign adds to its effectiveness. Translating to sales is one thing, but they are certainly more likely to generate media buzz and be remembered.

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