The sweet smell of excess

‘Fused with idealism, heritage moulded to modernity, classicism reinterpreted through originality…inspired by a search for balance and harmony in a chaotic and contradictory world’

The above verbiage is taken verbatim from the current Aer Lingus Sky Shopping magazine. It’s describing a little bottle of perfume, I should add, not a Caravaggio or Mozart’s Requiem. And there’s more. Much more.

Kate Moss presumably gets a nice royalty cheque on the mat every month for the eponymous ‘Kate‘ perfume, which is ‘feminine, sophisticated, wild and unforgettable, a mix of elegance and risqué…this first fragrance captures her seductive and sensual beauty while hinting at her edgy, sometimes wild approach to life’. So there.

Dolce & Gabanna have a parfum entitled The One, which is ‘created for the ultimate diva, it is at once tempting, modern and glamorous, embracing a touch of classicism’. Yes, more classicism. Now we know what undergraduate courses people who work in ad agencies for top international brands of perfume tend to pursue.

The home flag is flown by Inis Ór, ‘a fragrance that bursts with Spanish mountain oranges and a joyous heart of fresh green floral notes…a homecoming to love; the heart as the compass. I am alive’. Whoa there, this is still a little bottle of perfume we’re talking about, right?

Men shouldn’t feel too left out either. One is ‘about living your most intense desires, free of limits. It is a passion that stops at nothing. The addictive fragrance of Euphoria Men blends crisp, modern freshness with a sexy rich signature. Indeed.

It that doesn’t float your male boat, try Fleur du Male (seriously) from Jean Paul Gaultier. It is apparently ‘an unexpected blend of freshness and extreme sensuality. An ultra-virile torso-shaped bottle in dense dazzling white’.

Taken in isolation, these all sound like the usual advertising nonsense. When you find them all jammed in to the one publication, with page after page of these very strangely worded messages, you do begin to wonder: is there something more going on here?

Paula Downey’s excellent critique of the madness of marketing in a carbon-constrained world is available on Here’s a short extract from her piece:

‘In the early days of advertising and marketing when producers of ‘stuff’ were responding to a plethora of unmet needs, the product message was about features and function: Wow! Look what this can do for you!

Fast forward a few decades to a world of product sufficiency and oversupply and persuading people to replace stuff that’s perfectly good requires an entirely different approach: a play on emotions and human vulnerabilities. Product as lifestyle choice; brand as community.

Without a purpose deeper than profit, agencies will have to create extreme or frivolous campaigns to be heard above the din and noise of product choice. PR firms will have to mop up the mess and business will become a collective race-to-the-bottom of no real value to society.

But in an overheating, carbon-restricted world, where the interplay of complex ecological and social forces begins to bite hard, things move in a different direction.

Suddenly products, brands and patterns of consumption are political: the energy embodied in the production process and expended in the journey door- to-door, the supply-chain story, the human communities the production process has helped or hindered. All of this is moving centre-stage’.

I can’t help but think that perfume advertising is an unusually apt metaphor for our troubled times. The ‘products’ are of no intrinsic value whatever; many have been tested in the most horrific fashion on animals, and they contribute in no small manner towards making a tiny (and generally non-productive) elite ever more obscenely wealthy.

They are also usually extremely expensive, hence the verbal diarrhoea in the ads to bamboozle people into shelling out big bucks for small bottles in the entirely forlorn hope of buying into the ‘risqué glamour’ of some fashion model with a drug habit

I bet you didn’t know that footballer-cum-living-brand, David Beckham is ‘aspirational but within reach’. This we learn from the blurb accompanying a little bottle called ‘Intimately David Beckham‘. For a mere 36 euros for a 50cl bottle, you too can enjoy ‘the confidence of masculinity, the celebration of talent…the heady mix of energy, vibrancy, comfort and warmth’.

Think I’d rather soap and water than this soap opera and waffle.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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4 Responses to The sweet smell of excess

  1. So that’s how it works: you advertise some spurious association between sexuality and your product and the poor, dumb consumers open their purses and wallets and just hand over the money like lemmings? On behalf of the thousands of people who work in marketing and sales in Ireland I just want to thank you for solving the mystery for us.

    Why not go the whole hog: let’s stop women (who are the perfume market – David Beckham wannabees are still in the minority) from spending their money so frivolously. Take away their jobs and their credit cards and let them stay at home counting carbon emissions. Is that how you see it John?


  2. Henry94 says:

    I saw your article in the Irish times but they did not tell us your own scientific qualifications. You pointed out that Bjorn Lomborg had no qualifications in climate science. Do you? I can see an ideological standpoint in this entry. Nothing wrong with that but is the site based on just ideology or have you a scientific qualification too?

  3. John Gibbons says:

    Henry94, thanks for your feedback.

    I am not a scientist. I’m a journalist and commentator. You’ll find lots of us in newspapers. I am no more and no less qualified on climate scientist as Mr Lomborg, but the difference is that he believes he knows better than the tomes of published scientific evidence on this matter, and skilfully cherry-picks points to back up his arguments (and sell books).

    I have no such conceits about my scientific insights as to second-guess scientists who have submit their research to peer review on this topic (which Mr Lomborg does not). I have however, read and written extensively in this area and interviewed numerous scientists. For what it’s worth, they very rarely profess the certainties the Mr Lomborg appears to adduce from the published evidence.

    Let me leave you with a quote from another person as unqualified as myself and Mr Lomborg: “The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others”. ( Theodore Roosevelt, October 1907)

  4. Jonas says:

    Good piece. Enjoyed your column in the Times today, that guy Lomburg needed a good kicking and fair play, he got it from you, which is more than can be said of other coverage o f him in the press in Ireland and on the radio in the last few days, he’s been having a free run with his spiel up until today. Keep it up, someone needs to

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