Monday, July 5, 2010

What do teenagers smell like?

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

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,!