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“Controversy”, fandom, money, and Black Jade

Shakespeare hated his audience.

He must have. I’m sure he spent performances the way every writer spends them: hiding in the back (even in the Globe he would have found a “back”), loathing the coughers, wishing he could shoot the talkers, and watching everyone who stood up and moved from his or her seat like a hawk, figuring that any one of them could be the movement that tipped it over the edge into a mass exodus for the doors. That’s what writers do during performances.

Don’t bother to tell me that there would be no performance except for the audience. Writers know. It doesn’t make them hate the audience any less.

***

Kick it up a notch. Imagine that Shakespeare lived in a time when people wrote letters to him about what they thought about the play. “Juliet was an idiot for listening to Romeo,” they would have written. “Never tell me that Orsino couldn’t truly tell that Viola was a woman.” “Donkey’s heads! What sort of crap is this?” And so on and so forth, with other insightful literary comments. (This may well have happened. I don’t know – do we have access to Shakespeare’s fanmail?) That, too, is what audiences do. Yes, there are the lovely ones that just say “I loved the play!”, but they’re far outweighed – in the writer’s brain, if not on the scale – by the ones that make uninformed, off-the-cuff, immediate judgments, and yet want to tell the creator about it. If you want to truly say you’ve never had a similar thought, then trust me when I say that such thoughts are very common.

Few authors want to get into a tête-à-tête with their audiences over the reason they made Juliet such a silly git, or why it must be necessary for the play that Orsino believes Viola’s cross-dressing or that Bottom appears to have had his head actually transformed into a donkey’s head. Most audiences are not interested in the creative process, and anyway, if the author has to explain it, it feels like a bit of a failure, doesn’t it? since theoretically it should have been there on the screen for the audience to “get” if “getting” it is necessary.

Little has changed since Shakespeare’s day. Writers/creators still do the best they can making what they can, largely, just like Shakespeare, in order to pay the bills. Almost all of them are motivated in at least some small way by aspiration to creative expression, something artistic within themselves they want to fulfill; few of them are, like Shakespeare was, their own producer. Usually a financier and distributor play a part in the financing of the creation of any creative work and the distribution of it. These people are even less sympathetic to the audience reaction than the creator. They don’t want to hear that Juliet was a silly git; they just want to know the box office take.

***

However uncomfortable one may be with the business side of creative works, most consumers would not have access to the creative works if the creative works were not taken up by a production/distribution company that allowed the item to be built/made/reproduced and then sent out to us, the consumer. Without those producer/distributor bastards, you’d see miracle plays when the troupe came to town, twice a year, with your Uncle Bob in a lead role, and a set made in someone’s basement. And that’s it.

In this day of intarwebs, when it seems as though anyone can easily set up a shop and sell their product (and therefore what need is there for corporate interference in the “creative” process?), we still ignore the fact that we would be unaware of most brands and most products without the action of advertising and public relations, and that few independent producers are great businesspeople able to tackle these functions. Shakespeare actually did pretty well; Joss Whedon made money on “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”; and Justin Bieber did in fact become a singing sensation off his YouTube videos. But those occurrences are still rare, not the norm.

Every creator has always had contact with the audience in some form. In previous days, if the audience didn’t like what you were doing, they would throw eggs at you. The intermediating forces of radio, television, film, and now internet actually place more distance between creator/producer and the audience than previously existed. For more than a hundred years, what creators put out, they didn’t usually hear much back about, except in occasionally written letters, loathed and feared newspaper reviews, focus groups, or test audiences. (Note that the latter two of those activities are still well under the producers’ control.)

Then along comes the Internet/internet/intarweb/Being Online. Everyone with an opinion can register it, within seconds, and broadcast it at the same time. Horrors! Everyone from politicians to hot dog vendors is still trying to figure out how much weight to put on internet communications. But one thing is clear: the internet gives consumers a publishing platform of their own, not controlled by the producers, with which to broadcast their opinions, no matter how small the consuming market nor how small the number of commentators.

That last point is important, because as it turns out, few people buy perfume, and even fewer think about it. Two out of three women reported wearing basically one fragrance (or less) in 2010. (http://www.fragrancefoundation.org.uk/market-research.htm) Women under 24 especially prefer to have one scent to wear all the time, rather than a fragrance “wardrobe”. But at the same time, women do wear perfume. If you can create a perfume that women buy, even more than a television show they want to watch, it’s like printing money. As Bois de Jasmin reported in February, for a bottle of perfume that costs 100 euros, the value of the fragrance concentrate – that which gives it its smell (and 88% of women buy perfume for the smell) is only 1 to 1.5 euros. The profit margin on perfume can be extremely lucrative; and the globalization of markets can make popular sellers very broad-based. Even in 1992, Estee Lauder, the company, was worth $3 Billion (“Billionaires”, Forbes, 10/18/1993, Vol. 152, Issue 9); today US production of toiletries overall was more than $47 Billion in one year.

What that all means is that the producer stands to make a lot of money in this pop culture field.

Now here’s the thing that drives those producers crazy:

No one ever knows what’s going to make a hit.

Titanic? A weepfest where the ship goes down and the boy dies? Biggest worldwide grossing movie to date? Who could have guessed? Likewise, how would anyone have known that Angel, a chemical powdery choco-patchouli smell, would become one of the most popular-selling perfumes of its decade – and the one following? There’s no way to accurately predict. All producers can do is to release more of what just came before.

And that’s not a new strategy; there’s a reason Liu smells a lot like Chanel No. 5, and so does L’Aimant. When something’s doing well in the market, you release more rather like it, and try to capture some of that market share.

Yes, of course, some producers try to take a few (lowest-cost-possible) risks; and when they pay off, they pay off big. But producers tend not to make money by treading new ground; they know they can make money by treading somewhere they’ve already been, so they do. Riskiness in art is seldom rewarded by the markets. Shakespeare copied the plots of plenty of those plays from his Italian sources, you know.

Now into this unpredictable world, where it costs a lot of money to develop a new product (whether it’s a movie or a perfume) but even more money could potentially be made, let’s drop that unpredictable element: the words of the consumer.

Remember, Shakespeare must have hated his audience. Writers always do. (Yes yes, they love them too; the twisted love/hate relationship of creators and audiences is a topic for another day.) Television producers really hate their audience, and so do radio producers, and novelists. Oh, they love them too, because without the audience the show wouldn’t go on. But trust me, it’s a complicated relationship – ask any popular creator about their fanbase and you will get a carefully crafted PR answer, unless you get the real answer, which is “I’m so glad they like my stuff – but some of these people are crazy!” And when the audience even appears to potentially threaten the financial viability of the show/product, the creators get antsy… but the producers go absolutely nuts.

This is my very long explanation as to why I don’t mind that I own a bottle of Black Jade even after the president/owner of Lubin perfumes made a display of being a complete jerk in Olfactoria’s blog when she reviewed the scent. If Lubin the company hadn’t made the advertising claim that the formula was based on one of Marie-Antoinette’s actual perfumes, Olfactoria wouldn’t have made the point that such was clearly absurd and not particularly worth it, if true, for a perfume this ordinary.

I read the CEO’s (if such he is) comments to that blog post as a completely predictable reaction of a producer whose money is on the line and the last thing he wants to hear from is a blogger – to him, the equivalent of someone coughing in the first row. What does that person know about the difficulty of putting on this particular show, all the people who have collaborated to make it happen, all the finances he has riding on the line? How dare that person comment?

Well, the problem is, audiences do dare. They always have, and they always will; the internet just makes it easier to do globally, and the words stay up there, and Google finds them, and lord, what a marketing problem for the people who have to sell a candidate named Santorum.

It doesn’t really matter what Olfactoria’s qualifications are to review scent; it never has. Professional critics are always just as reviled, if not more so, as amateur ones; they just tend to get more free seats. The guy’s got money on the line, the blogger nothing; his purposes are only served if reviews are positive, not negative. He reacts accordingly.

Is this guy a PR genius? Clearly not. There are many bloggers who purposefully won’t buy a Lubin perfume on the strength of this exact incident. Does that really matter to his worldwide sales? Probably not. Remember, 88% of women buy perfume based on the smell; if his perfume smells nice (and Black Jade does), it will probably sell no matter what. But the guy’s antsy, he’s got problems, and he doesn’t like the coughing.

It’s pretty clear from every interview I’ve ever read with perfume creators/producers (or creators, or producers), that they have very similar attitudes toward the audience as most television or film creators/producers. Most of the audience is technically uninformed about the process and difficulties and aims of production (true), and shouldn’t be commenting on the product – false, because it assumes that only those who are qualified should comment, and ignores the fact that even those who are well qualified aren’t really welcome to comment. (Does a perfumer really like it when another perfumer comments on his or her work? I don’t see that they do, with the exception of clearly extra-positive relationships like those between the natural perfumers whose letters Nathan Branch publishes on his blog. Similarly, trust me, TV and movie producers don’t want to hear from each other about their work, either, any more than fashion designers want to hear that Roberto Cavalli thinks that they suck.)

Plus they ignore the fact that the consuming audience, those paying people, will comment and do comment, and short of shooting them (which would really cut down on sales), there’s nothing one can ever really do about it. Shakespeare feels your pain, people. But none of us in the audience do.

Me, I try to draw purchasing lines based on bigger moral decisions. Shell Oil is destroying Nigeria and orders those writers whom it doesn’t like, murdered; I won’t buy from them. Nestlé has specifically killed thousands of children in Africa with their unethical sales practices; I won’t buy from them either. One particular guy at a company is a dick? Well, what else is news?

Jean-Paul Guerlain made some hideously racist comments a few years ago. Guerlain removed him from the company and apologized for his behavior. I’m more inclined to buy from Guerlain, not less.

Would I like Lubin better if someone apologized for this guy’s dickish behavior to a nice lady who writes about perfumes for fun? Yes, I would. If he had any decent PR people, someone would have done it. Do I think the company is worth shunning because this guy’s a dick? Not really. Most financial people are not charming, and plenty of actually creative people are complete jerks. I treasure the ones who are truly mensches, decent people doing decent things – Tom Hanks, Joss Whedon, and the people at MCMC Perfumes – and try to ignore the rest. Lots of people in the creative businesses are not people you’d want to be friends with; at best, they’re often self-absorbed narcissists, as so many successful creative people are. Such is the business of creative arts. If they’re not killing babies, I give them a lot of leeway.

I bought my full bottle of Black Jade at MiN and couldn’t have been happier. I’ve gotten many compliments on Black Jade and given away decants to friends who loved it. In fact, I loved it enough to try more Lubin fragrances, and on the strength of my affection for Black Jade acquired both L de Lubin and Nuit de Longchamp. I don’t mind the bottles (I don’t adore them either) and while I don’t fall slavering at the thought of the juice, I really quite like it.

And apparently, the financial producer/helmer of the company that makes it is kind of a jerk. You know, the kind who snaps at members of the audience and OKs clearly ridiculous advertising campaigns. Shrug. I suggest that if you’re at all interested in a lightweight spicy vanillic floral, you give Black Jade a smell, and buy on the strength of that.


Photo is I ♥ Haters, by The Infatuated, via Flikr; used under Creative Commons license; some rights reserved.

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10 comments to “Controversy”, fandom, money, and Black Jade

  • lady jane grey

    I’m with you on a lot of things you mentioned above. Yes, I’m one of those (few) who TRY to act responsible (I didn’t use the word “ethics” by purpose…) – so I too cut Nestle (it’s not only the children in Africa, but those in Latin America as well). You know, I thought John Galliano is a creative genious, I still think he is – BUT I won’t be a buyer for a CG with racist attitudes, definitely not ! And I don’t try&buy Etat Libre d’Orange (I only ever tried Like this), becasue I don’t find their marketing funny but (c)rude and lacking any respect. I know, it doesn’t matter to them, they don’t care. But it matters to me !
    Well, I liked Black Jade – but I still hesitate to buy it. Because of that jerk.
    (BTW, have you read the New York Times’ article about the Walmart bribe in Mexico? Gross…)

  • Judith

    Everybody has to pick their own lines. Every company picks them too, of course. Disney is one of those companies that gives insanely good customer service because they want EVERYONE to have a good opinion of Disney! I still find them vaguely icky and monopolistic – but you won’t find anyone from Disney pulling what the guy from Lubin pulled!

    I have NOT read the NYT on the Walmart story – off to look it up…

    Thanks for commenting!

  • First, I want to say that I enjoyed reading your post the day it was published but I didn’t have time to comment then.

    Second, I do not think that whatever that guy said at Birgit’s blog warrants a campaign for boycotting this brand (so I won’t throw stones in your direction for buying a perfume you liked) but I personally chose that as my path: I will not be buying a couple of perfumes from this brand that I’ve already sampled and liked and I won’t be testing them going forward. There are many nicer brands/perfumers/perfumes whi didn’t offend me or my friends out of the blue.

    And I also want to join lady jane grey to say that I share her attitude towards Etat Libre d’Orange. And I hope that if we keep repeating it enough times eventually it’ll get to them.

    • Judith

      Oh good! I’d be sad if I lost you, my one faithful commenter.

      The interesting thing about perfume companies is that they’re small enough that one has the chance to form a personal opinion about a producer, nose, distributor, whatever. And of course that can so easily affect one’s purchasing decisions. I wouldn’t throw stones at anyone who decided NOT to patronize Lubin based on the guy’s behavior, either! As you say, there are so many options to choose from – why bother with one if we don’t want to?

      I think it’s interesting that Etat Libre D’Orange immediately came up as a company people object to. I find many of their names “teenager naughty” – “Hee! Body parts!” – but not, say, racistly offensive like M. Guerlain was. The original name for Fils de Dieu WAS offensive – and they changed it (though I noticed bottles they displayed at Excense? in Milan recently still had the old name, so I wonder how committed they are to the new name.) I am a very pro-sex person, though, so their mentions of or depictions of body parts or sex just don’t offend me. I’ll still shop from them too! 🙂

      As I said, unless people are killing children, I give them a lot of leeway. Everyone has their own lines…

      • I have no problems with body parts and/or sex per ce. But I do not like when those are used in poor taste or to objectify women. I have too much self-respect to wear, even jokingly, a pefume called Hotel Whore. And to whoever tells me they feel it’s fine, I’d suggest imaging you mother wearing thin perfume. Still OK? What about your grandmother? 😉

        • Judith

          My grandmother would have laughed at it too. 🙂 But then this was the woman who told me that every woman should have at least some leopard print underwear! (Which, actually, I don’t, at the moment.) My mother never wore perfume.

          I think ELd’O’s names are about as far from reality – or commenting on it – as anything can be. But everyone’s lines about what’s funny or not are truly in different places. A perfume I can take or leave doesn’t bother me; if there was a sign on my door at work that said “Hotel Whore” that someone had put there without my knowledge, I would feel very differently about it.

          I can certainly understand objecting to Hotel Whore more than, say, the people who complained about the triangle of cunnilingus on Archive 69. The name Hotel Whore certainly trends more in the direction of objectification – even if someone WERE a hotel whore, it wouldn’t be a nice thing to call them. It’s a type of objectification with a long artistic history – from Mary Magdalene to La Traviata – but usually without using the more graphic name, which is not as respectful as it could be. Somehow I feel that it implies more respect for sex workers to name a really nice, expensive perfume after them than not. Or maybe it’s because I’m not a native French speaker so “putain” doesn’t have the same visceral feeling to me as it would for someone who was. But like I said, it just doesn’t ping my “This pisses me off” meter – though I can certainly see how it would ping someone else’s!

          I don’t mind disrespectful; I dislike mean. I guess if I felt there was meanness behind the name, I would be less forgiving.

  • And now I am remembering the hit I took for the team in smelling the Etat Libre D’Orange’ Secretions Magnifiques at sniffa.

    I’m with you Judith. I have no problem with some of the titles, or even the concepts. Etat is banking on shock value/clever names to sell perfume. Shrug. There is a difference between disgusting concepts and disgusting actions, and since we are on the subject of Secretions Magnifiques, disgusting scents.

    • Judith

      If anything, it’s more than slightly boring to try to get shock value from the names. It’s like those teenage boys in the neighborhood that you hope are planning to grow up someday. I guess they might not if no one ever slaps them around. 🙂 But I, at least, am certainly not a fan of dead-serious – and awful – perfumes. I’m up for some levity and penis pictures on my perfume. As long as they’re not hurting anyone’s feelings with it.

      You certainly did take a hit smelling Secretions Magnifiques. No mileage in THAT! I still need to smell the Rossy? de Palma scent. I thought I was getting it when I got Josephine Baker – because I can’t tell the difference between the two names. *headslap*

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