Monday, July 5, 2010

What do teenagers smell like?

This post has been cross posted from my new project, Teenagerie.com!

Depending on where and when you grew up, you likely have an answer for this, one that you are willing to defend with forehead-vein popping passion. For my mother, the answer is Jōvan Musk, an earthy drugstore concoction that brings her back to her Forenza sweater wearing days in the mid-80s. For me, a whiff of Victoria's Secret Love Spell puts me right back into a middle school hallway, dragging my feet to the whine of Dashboard Confessional. Other popular teenage fragrance choices from various eras include: Drakkar Noir, Love's Baby Soft, and Bath & Body Works' Sun Ripened Raspberry. Some more timeless scents include: sweat, and parents'-basement-sofa-handjob.

Somewhere around the time that I entered high school, Axe body spray started to gain popularity, which signified a paradigm shift in my teenage experience, at least from an olfactory point of view. Suddenly, boys locker rooms became torture-chambers for the musk-averse. With the aerosol applicator, it was now easier than ever to apply the long-held teen beauty mantra of "more-is-more."

Something that I find to be interesting about these newly-marketed fragrances is the unique nomenclature used to appeal to teens. While previous fragrance names tended toward descriptive, such as musk, strawberry, or powder fresh, today's names try to lure in teens with appeals to emotion.

Take, for instance, some of the names from the Axe line of body sprays, which include Phoenix, Essence, and Dark Temptation. None of these names actually speak to what the spray smells like. The same can be said for sprays from Old Spice's line, which include names like Swagger and After Hours. Bod Man, a lower-end brand, includes scents with names like $$$ and Really Ripped Abs. As a whole, the rhetoric for naming fragrances marketed toward teen boys tends toward fantasy. Words used are evocative of the forces of nature, contrarianism, and stereotypes of masculinity. I made this word cloud out of all of the names of male teen fragrances in my CVS:


Fragrances aimed at teenage girls are the same in that their names also do little to describe the actual smells of the products. Their titles, however, focus more on promoting ideals of fantasy and romance, than on adventure and badass-ery. Deodorants, meant to mask the smell of your sweat, are named things like Classic Romance and Sweet Surrender. Travel fantasies are called to mind with names like Capri Breeze and Island Falls. Again, none of these things point to a specific scent, but a feeling that teens will get from purchasing the product.
I'm not sure what sort of comment there is to make here about adolescent culture. I find it to be ironic that marketers are trying to tie aspiration and fantasy into a product that is meant to cover up your stink. Then again, maybe this speaks to a perception that exists saying that, to address my generation, it is no longer enough to simply produce a quality product. My peers and I have been groomed to buy into a lifestyle, so a simple deodorant may no longer suffice.

This post has been cross posted from my new project, Teenagerie.com!

21 comments:

  1. That's why I wear Axe, I am more seeking adventures than seeking the next make up rack.

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  2. Omg, Axe. THAT is the definitive boy smell from being a teenager. As guys get into college, most of them branch out and start using considerable more mature colognes. If a college guy is still using Axe, that's a big turn off for me. As for girl perfumes, can't honestly pick one out.

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  3. Cucumber Melon! It's what all the girls were wearing when I was a teenager. That and Sweet Pea. I'm big on fruit scents, so I've always been out of style, wearing something like raspberry when vanilla was in, or blueberry when brown sugar was in. Put me with one of my friends and we smell like a delicious pie!

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  4. I love this post! Just the other day a guy was telling me about how his new deodorant supposedly smelled like, something, something, and freedom. I was like, what? What does freedom smell like? It was ridiculous.

    Oh, I effing hate Axe.

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  5. When I was a teenager a lot of girls wore a dollar-store ripoff of Davidoff's Cool Water, or that Love's vanilla thing, or Calgon's Hawaiian Ginger. I still have a bit left of my bottle of that last, and it takes me back to the halls of my high school whenever I smell it. Guys wore Adidas Moves or CKBe. Not quite as revolting as Axe, but almost.

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  6. Wow, is there really a men's deodorant named "Great White"?? Umm, how'd that get past the board room...? "Rock Hard" seems pretty thinly veiled. Why not just take that extra step and call it "Ginormous Penis"?

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  7. You should read "Born to Buy" by Juliet B. Schor. It address a lot of what you have been blogging about throughout these past months.

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  8. I think you've underestimated the age of Axe - it was already popular when I was in middle school, and I'm at least five years older than you (I just heard about your blog in the UChicago online news bulletin). I particularly like the names of nail polish colors - currently I'm wearing one called Cosmo's Not Til Tonight Honey, a sort of metallic light brown.

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  9. ha, this takes me back to junior high - i smelled like, no joke, teen spirit. yep, the song is named after a brand of deodorant.

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  10. Wow, great post. And so true too.
    A lot of the "glittering generalities" in virtually all ads make absolutely no sense and are not even related to the product (cigarette ads are a classic example).
    Like you said, it's not about selling the product, it's about selling the fantasy.

    -Juliette WhereForArtThouRomeo

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  11. To be fair, this is apparent in the older generation's perfume of choice too... Beautiful? Beyond Paradise? But looking at the industry as a whole...yeah, I feel you. Fantasies half off in aisle 9!

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  12. Yep, Adidas or CK will take me back. I didn't wear anything in HS and only recently have started exploring niche fragrances, but I'll never forget what everyone *else* smelled like.

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  13. perfume names, in particular 'male' ones, always make me laugh.If you pick out some kid at the mall, especially someone small for their age or whatever and ask him what cologne he's wearing, chances are he'll have picked the most badass-y named fragrance.Probably something like Really Ripped Abs. Or even Ginormous Penis. Fact.

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  14. Axe was the bane of my life in middle school.... I'm 21 now, but honestly.... They would spray it on lockers in the hallway, and mix scents- we got these packs when we had sex ed that had "personal hygeine" supplies. The guys got axe, we got deodorant. Great message that they were sending! For girls it was definitely Hawaiian Ginger. Or vanilla. Or coconut. But yes. Axe still makes me cringe, and takes me back to those bright orange lockers!

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  15. Amazed by your blog.
    Congrats from Rio de Janeiro

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  16. just found your blog- loving it!

    as an old lady, I urge you to play with fine fragrance- and I do not mean from Walgreen's (or V. S.- icky fruity things.)

    Fragrance is amazing. Look on Basenotes or Makeup Alley for more ideas.

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  18. I'm younger than your mom, but well older than you, and I took up wearing Jovan musk because I'd always admired one of my aunties (who is probably your mom's age), for whom it was a signature scent. The thing I like especially about it is that it is rather subtle and mellows on the skin quickly. I think it has a rather comfortable, autumnal scent...melds well with camp-fire smoke, you know.

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  19. But the naming principle applies to a lot of popular adult perfumes as well- does Chanel No.5 tell you anything about how it smells? Some will give you a hint, like Daisy or Opium, but many don't have any clues in their names, to name ome off the top of my head we have: 212, Fantasy by Britney Spears, Lovestruck, Be Delicious, Alice, Black Diamond, Nina, Poison, Armani Code, JPG Classique etc etc. My own perfume is called Lady Million, and I'd be lying if I said I chose it based purely on smell rather than name/image.

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  20. Teenager smells like a pathetic pig who is not so much cleaned from 2 or 3 months when they not wash their clothes and other things, you know what I mean!! Modeling as Career Just unimaginable!!

    Thanks!

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