Jan 9, 2019 in Analysis

Summary of “Classic perfume advertising 1920–1970” by Johnson Jacqueline Essay


“Classic perfume advertising 1920 – 1970” by Johnson Jacqueline is a collection of classic perfume adverts that were seen in the period between 1920 and 1970. In this book, the author simply collects the various perfume adverts and classifies them according to the companies and the impacts they had on their respective audiences. The book recognizes all the classic pieces produced by the various ‘big houses’ of the time, and gives due credit to the responsible fine artists for the pieces. As a comprehensive collection, Johnson’s work is not only informative but also very interesting with regards to the history of perfume advertising. 

This paper analyses the book, discussing the author’s thesis, providing a summary and further analyzing the adverts to establish how the perfume houses communicated with their consumers at the time. Also, the paper will discuss how the book brings out the sense of smell in the classic adverts. 

1. The Book Thesis

This book follows perfume makers with publications of their adverts, and especially those that were regarded as classics and done by famous fine artists of the period between 1920 and 1970. The idea behind the collection is to show just how companies have over the years managed to connect with their target markets through pictures when it comes to such a thing as the sense of smell. They used the services of great advertising agencies and extremely talented fine artists to send a message about their fragrances to the targeted consumers, usually exploiting the consumerist culture that was still in the offing at the time. As print media adverts, these classics managed to impress the consumers and sell countless bottles over time. In the book, the author highlights the works of numerous perfume houses that were at the top of the industry at the time, showing just how they may have managed to do so well at a time when marketing had yet embraced as advanced a technology as it has today. In capturing the classics of the past, the author manages to show just how far the advertising has come and how different things are right now. The author manages to document the work of numerous perfume houses, and their adverts, giving their estimated prices, the responsible artists or photographers, the history of the perfume house with regards to who founded it, when and where. She also provides information on the magazines that ran the adverts, thus making it a complete catalogue of historical facts in classic perfume adverts. The author seeks and actually succeeds in creating a wealth of knowledge from which one can compare and contrast present day perfume adverts to those of the 1920-1970 time period. 

2. Summary

The book starts out by analyzing the perfume industry, with how things started out. The industry is said to have begun with a perfume bottle that reached the States as a gift from France. This later grew into a frenzy that saw every woman wishing to won a bottle or two. Basically, the perfumers created a demand for their product by sampling it and enticing the consumers to purchase them. Soon afterwards, the author writes of the use of adverts to appeal to the consumers in the various available print media at the time. The high end perfumes were advertised in high end magazines while those for the middle class also found their way into the appropriate magazines. The author then goes ahead to explain the difference between the advertising at the time and what is known of it today. As opposed to simply asking the consumer to buy their products as companies did back then, today’s advertisers ask consumers not to buy other brands instead. The competitive nature of marketing has simply veered of the designed path into some extreme indulgence. 


The author finally considers the various works witnessed in these adverts as they evolved with time. From the conservative works of the imaginations by fine artists, to the embracing of more liberal opinions that paved way for nude and semi nude models on the fragrances, the perfume industry has grown with the social constructs but has remained consistent in its core message. Women continue to be assured of more sex appeal once they use these fragrances, while men are also convinced to get some good attention when wearing a certain fragrance. The perfume industry thus continues to use sex as a vantage point in attracting buyers for their merchandise. 

With regards to the photos, the author pays great attention to background information including who made the adverts, when they first appeared, which magazines run them and exactly who is responsible with regards to photographers or the fine artists depending on the kind of art. The author also gives the estimated costs of these adverts based on the best available sources. These adverts are also accompanied by information on the perfume houses that own them, like when they were founded, who founded them, where they were located, and whether they are still in existence.  She follows major perfume makers through their series of adverts, after giving a thorough background check on them for the benefit of a reader with no familiarity in the subject. Generally, the book can be described as a present day catalogue for the perfumes that existed way back in history. The amount of information on perfume makers that can be found in this book is impressive to say the least.

3.  Discourse Analysis

Olfactory and the Book

The book contains photographs of adverts for perfumes. This means that it is a visual aid for products that appeal to the sense of smell. The book is thus responsible for letting the reader in on how the perfumes may have been. By impressing upon the reader the origin of the fragrance, its inspiration, the target market and the price range, the reader is able to create a perception or rather expectation with regards to their understanding of perfumes. The relationship between the book and the olfactory is thus that it inspires the creation of distinct scents that are based on the individual reader’s experience with the perfume houses and their adverts. The book gives enough information to allow any true perfume fanatic to smell the scents without really having to smell them physically. 

Communicative Modes

As opposed to capitalizing on language use, this book shows that the perfume adverts largely used to and continue to use the vision to sell. Most of the adverts have the picture of a woman, designed to appear perfect in some way. They image of the woman would represent what the consumer would define as ideal based on the social constructs, and consequently what they would like to feel like. In essence, the perfume makers communicated with the consumers by using sensational pictures for both the ‘ideal man’ and the ‘ideal woman’. Noting the role of such adverts in shaping the social constructs on beauty, sexuality and social status, it can be said that the adverts clearly distinguished the different classes of women based on the kind of models they used for the various qualities of fragrance. The pictures said it all, in terms of the affordability of the perfume to the targeted social class. 

With regards to the sense of sight, it can be established that the adverts could portray the intensity of a fragrance based on the intensity of the colors used. The lighter sheds implied a relatively softer variation, showing some form of delicateness and subtlety in character. The bolder shades were on the other hand used for the stronger versions of the fragrances, and more often the male versions. Also, fruity and flowery fragrances had the pictures of their origin plants or fruits as a way of letting the consumers know exactly what they were looking at. 

Considering that these adverts greatly rely on the consumer’s prowess in perfumes and scents, the pictures are made as beautiful and attractive as possible so as to allow for precise guides to the imagination. The adverts are largely responsible for how the society defines an attractive woman, or man. The perfumes are thus positioned within the consumers’ minds as the epitomes of perfection with regards to sexuality. To do this, the adverts have to apply visual aids such as beautiful women in the nude, or semi nude, or extravagantly dressed to show their social status. For the men, the adverts show a supposedly ideal man with the perfect face and body, usually shirtless or in a very classy suit. 

The use of language has however not been entirely shunned in these adverts. Some of the wording that accompanies the photographs is largely suggestive without having to be too obvious. The perfumers go as far as pronouncing the sexuality that is obvious in the photographs, asking the consumers if they would like to be as appealing to the opposite sex as the models on the adverts. 

Some perfume makers go as far as shaping the perfume bottle in such distinct shapes as a the ideal woman’s body which is usually an hour glass type of shape, or a coveted possession like an expensive looking pair of high heels, a car model considered as really cool, or even a small shiny water flask for the adventurous spirits. Conclusively, it can be said that the perfume makers communicate to their consumers about the perfumes by use of enticing pictures, suggestive wording and bottle shapes.            


This book follows perfume makers with regards to publications of their adverts, and especially those that were regarded as classics and done by famous fine artists of the period between 1920 and 1970. The author captures the activities of famous perfume houses, from their founding to the numerous series of products that they released into the market. The idea behind the collection is to show just how companies have over the years managed to connect with their target markets through pictures when it comes to such a thing as the sense of smell. The book can be regarded as a historical account of advertising in the perfume industry between 1920 and 1970, and it features the works of great perfume houses of the time as provided by the best of fine artists and photographers as well. As a book on classic perfume adverts, this piece manages to steer a perfume enthusiast in the right direction with regards to the kind of scents that were made back then. The book connects to the reader’s sense of smell through the thorough accounts on the perfume makers and their locations, as well as the target audience of the adverts. The price range further provides an idea of the quality that could be expected of the fragrances. Conclusively, it can be said that the perfume makers communicate to their consumers about the perfumes by use of enticing pictures, suggestive wording and bottle shapes.   


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