Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Vintage Advertising Champions: Let Them Talk (Coty Sophia)

The first "real" celebrity perfume is probably Sophia by Coty, issued in 1981 after the persona of Sophia Loren, Italian superstar and Hollywood legend to give many a run for their money. No Liz Taylor, you ask? Elizabeth Taylor's white Diamonds and Catherine Deneuve's erstwhile Deneuve perfume deal with Avon (1986) historically follow Sophia. I'm not counting the (semi-promotional) claims by Creed or the historical figures like Empress Josephine (for Guerlain's Eau Imperiale) or Sarah Bernard who had a penchant for cosmetics anyway; their commissions didn't come across as "product" till very recently,  in essence ~pun notwithstanding~ negating the very concept of "celebrity scent" (aka, jus and packaging produced to harness the power of a fan club into strengthening a person's "brand").

If you're curious about these little fragrance trivia you can check out an interesting timeline for the Celebrity Fragrances Craziness History on this link.  And if you're not, it's still sort of fascinating to find out that Loren apparently had such a big following in America that the giant Coty was interested in promoting a fragrance after her!

But my focus today is the print ad. I mean, wow! Doesn't it give you that nudge, nudge,wink wink to go out and try out Sophia because it's everything that prim little "old ladies" with sour lips (yeah, I know!) wouldn't approve of? Please note that by 1981 Loren was no spring chicken herself, proudly displaying her 47 years of age (All the more so since back then 40s was most definitely not the "new 30s", we've come a long way baby…). Far from the feminist issue it appears on first glance, this little fact gives nuance.

A mature woman that probably sports some serious eyeliner,   a good smattering of blush, some flesh-toned lipstick not to divert from her gorgeous almond eyes and a good ol' hair spray cloud (before "product" became standard code for hair gels & mousses). And one who pretty much has caught her man and kept him too; not for lack of admirers, it is most convincingly hinted at. That sex appeal of Sophia is always on the surface but done in a classy manner (ms.Loren never gave cause for press scandals). The wording of the ad text lets us feel that sex appeal is OK (transcribed in its humanity rather than its outrĂ© reputation, as further consolidated by the crying & laughing bit) and that it's maybe only small minds of a dowdy, spinsterly nature that condemn it as such. Therefore, non sensical, negligible… The grace of the cultural divide is there too. Exotic, European actresses (and ladies from abroad in general) have always had a greater leeway with American audiences. Maybe partaking in their fragrance could impart a bit of this non mi interessa to their suburbia existence.

A case study for sociology and for perfume advertising.


  1. annemarie01:26

    Hmmm ... for a second I thought it was being suggested that the elderly women have had interesting pasts - and why not? Everyone is young at some stage. But no, they really are there to look old, sour and judgmental. I'm sure this ad would have appealed to women in their 30s and 40s, at the age where you start to worry that you will end up like your mother! Maybe they hoped that wearing 'Sophia' might save them from that (apparently dire) fate!

  2. Miss Heliotrope08:04

    Um - but when you say S is older than you might be thinking for this ad - so really are those women, the whole thing is setting up a 1950s world, but 30 years too late. Maybe it's hoping we'll hark back to when S was a young woman, scaring the old ladies - but that sort of old lady (despite my admiration for a good hat) were not really common by 1981.

  3. AMC,

    oh I'm sure they could have. And interesting pasts do not alays involve sex, do they? They might involve embezzlement, blackmail, poisoning, and a host of other things, less evil than those… LOL!
    I think indeed you're right that the ad is directed at ladies in their 30s and 40s that like to differentiate themselves from their mothers/grandmothers.
    The message is powerful!

  4. C,

    exactly! Historically correct the very thing you say. These are like they came out from a small village out of an Agatha Christie novel featuring Miss Marple: sour, judgmental and somewhat ominous. I doubt they reflected the 1981 reality, but the hyperbole is meant to stress the message "don't be like them, be like me (S) and let them talk". It's funny the way some things don't change though: middle-age omen everywhere don't like to become like their mothers.

  5. Oakland Fresca17:59

    MH's comment interests me too. Even today, the trope of the "little old lady" is still a powerful one in popular culture... Even though she has become a rare sighting...on tv and in movies she is usually "feisty" despite being small, dressed in outdated but quaint clothes, and has a quick tongue. But she is always someone we don't aspire to be...even today the ad with only a bit of tweaking would probably still convey a clear and appealing message to 40 and 50 somethings... Me being in that illustrious demographic myself!

  6. Maria13:16

    I used to think that this attitude "don't be like it and let them talk" plus desire to be different from your mom are characteristics of teenagers... Apparently, they have no age limit.

  7. Great ad! Although I recently came across a series of print ads for perfume under the name of Mary Garden dating I believe pre WWI so that may very well be the first real celebrity scent

  8. OF,

    indeed, it persists! People love cliches…

  9. M,
    true in being diff than mom but teens are afraid of peer gossip. IDK, think it applies to everyone to some degree?

  10. K,

    you have to fill me up on Mary Garden! Thanks for commenting.

  11. Maria14:40

    Oh, I didn't mean peer gossip as this ad doesn't mean peer gossip - it's older generation's opinion that is discarded. Yeah, must be universal, more or less. Funny I can't think of a contemporary teen-addressed ad with this message, probably because it's still older generation who opens wallet most of the time :-)

  12. M,

    mea culpa, then.

    Yeah, teens don't have buying dough as great, but 20-40 group is the biggest buying pool, reportedly.

  13. Maria09:31

    No... I can't think of any in that age group either, all about seduction. Or being pleasant, and/or charming folks right and left. Sorry :(
    Also, be it published today, wouldn't it raise a hell of protest because of "insulting image of older women, playing age-card again, perpetuating age-related prejudices" and whatever else is now on agenda of everybody's right fighters? And, on the other hand, papers on how "50 is the new 20", "inability to embrace mature age and/or attitudes" or something...

  14. Exactly as you say, Maria!

    In a certain manner, I'm grateful that today there is the "rights" movement that protects us from too much prejudice, age-related or otherwise. One can't toss that.
    In another it can become too tiresome as it makes having a conversation extremely difficult lest anyone steps on anyone's toes.
    I like to see this as being playful and tongue-in-cheek. As discussed above, surely in 1981 "old ladies" weren't that spinster-like, sour-lipped and tsk tsk tsking….Not that I'm entirely convinced they ever were! :-D

    It's good that there is discussion in the public domain, that much I can tell.


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