Snake Oil, Inc.


– On the unintentional consequences of…words

There’s one irrefutable fact of life that every writer will have to come to terms with sooner or later, and always when you least expect it:

Your words can come back to bite you.

This was brought home to me the day before yesterday, when I was clearing out messages on Facebook. I discovered not only that I had a folder titled ‘Other’, it even contained something I hadn’t read. The horror! A writer who takes a great deal of pride in answering all her email, Tweets, and FB status updates/comments/messages in a timely fashion had somehow managed to miss this one.

It was a cease and desist order of a particular and actually quite arrogant kind, demanding I immediately remove all references (all two of them) to a joke name in a blog I wrote…in 2008. This personage claimed not only to have a trademark for the title (actually, it would have to be registered to be valid, according to my source), but also that my way-beyond obscure blog entry would be deleterious and harmful to her business and reputation.

Incidentally, this was the very first-ever perfume blog I ever wrote on my grab-bag anarcho-feminist/musical miscellanea/verbal test lab blog known as MoltenMetalMama. I wrote it as a joke in a reference to a recent scientific study about the aphrodisiacal properties of …bacon. I wrote it years before I had the harebrained idea to write about perfume in earnest, and strangely enough, I’ve never had the urge to write about bacon ever again. I had…five regular readers at the time, three of whom were bribed. I never gave it a second thought. Until Wednesday.

Out of idle curiosity, I Googled the offensive title. Countless song titles, an episode in a soft-core porn TV show available on cable, the aforementioned personage, her company and her product, and somewhere between page 20 and 29 of the search results, my heinous, stupid and long-forgotten joke blog.

Deleterious. When the first twenty pages of search results are soft-core porn TV and more song titles than I can sing before I run out of breath?

Fair’s fair. I’d much rather spend my pitiful disposable income on perfume than on litigation. I changed those two references. I even wrote her back and told her. That would have been the end of it, live and learn, except she wrote me back and really cooked her goose.

‘Thank you for acknowledging that I’m right, and by the way, since you’re a perfume blogger, you should try my stuff. It smells really good!’

So does quite a lot of the stuff they sell at my local mall for the first five seconds, and then, they don’t. They smell like the uninspired, poorly constructed mass-market messes they are. I am no longer interested in anything that ‘smells good’. I’m seriously spoiled by now. With a name like her product, I want Triple-Distilled And Enfleuraged Essence Absolute of Aphrodite.

To be a bit more precise, I want…’Let me rip off your clothes. With my teeth.’

It so happens I’m lucky enough to own a few of those, road-tested by yours truly through years of experience and some serious worship at Our Church of Diehard Dedicated Hedonism.

I’ll be getting back to those in a future blog post. Back to the hapless personage who messed in all the wrong ways with the wrong blogger.

The fact is, any perfume with such a spurious (non-registered) trademark name is basically selling snake oil on a par with that wonderful electrical belt pictured above than cures not just impotence and seminal weakness but rheumatism, too!

There’s no such thing as a universal aphrodisiac. Men – and women too – are pesky individualists who are imprinted by association. If roses were blooming at a particular romantic moment in your life, chances are, you will associate roses and romance ever after.

Perfume is nothing if not aspirational. We are all of us searching for that magic philter of love (or its sibling, lust), that magic carpet ride, and while we do, perfumers are hard at work creating bottled aspirations in their infinite variety, since they are well aware of that short-cut through our labyrinthine brains that perfume can affect.

It can be distilled into the daisy chain of cause and effect. You come across a perfume that makes YOU…weak in the knees. With the simple application of a dab or a spray, you…walk taller, you feel better, you are suddenly aware of your sensual self and your own allure in ways you weren’t mere moments before. What-the-hey…you put it on for a date or an assignation, along with whatever clothes and appurtenances have a similar effect. Because of how this perfume makes you feel, you act in ways that further your nefarious purpose. Let’s say it does everything you possibly could have hoped for.

Henceforward, you have now found…your Essence Absolute of Aphrodite. Application, affect, association. ‘This one always works’.

What works for me is a little space for my own imagination. Whether a perfume is called Bandit, Magie Noir, Cabochard, Tango, Dirty Sexy Wilde, Tabac Blond or Ambre Sultan, to name but a few of my own smash successes, I prefer inferences rather than the obvious, because that’s how it works – for me. Your mileage may vary and your perfumes may be different – and so may your associations.

What doesn’t work is having someone else’s associations rammed up my nose, or being told in an arrogant, better-than-thou manner that whatever I think – or write – is wrong. I dislike my own words taken out of context, and above all else, I detest people without a sense of the ridiculous. Frankly, I think it is ridiculous that a long-forgotten blog post, buried in the flotsam and jetsam of the Net almost three years ago which was a humorous take on perfume advertising should be deleterious to anyone’s business – especially a business that likely didn’t even exist at the time of writing which I obviously couldn’t even know about.

If the personage had been a tad more polite about it, then who knows? I might have been curious enough to investigate further. As it stands, she can kiss this potential customer goodbye for good.

I’ve been very privileged to meet and establish rapports with some epically talented perfumers, and all of them have unparalleled imaginations, a literary bent that strikes very many chords with this writer, and an inclination to give their customers a little breathing space for their own associations. They have all of them spoiled me for life, and ‘it smells good’ doesn’t even begin to cover the complexity of their work. If the juice is good enough, the concept true enough, trust me, the customer will know if there’s carnality in that content. The genies in those bottles never lie.

The rest of it is just…so much snake oil, false advertising and not nearly enough imagination!

Image: The Washington State Library

14 thoughts on “Snake Oil, Inc.

  1. T, I'm glad that you didn't mention the name, because I'd hate for that twit to get any curiosity sales (or google hits, or anything else), simply because she's an ignorant twit.

    How can you have a perfume, and NOT know that the perfume bloggers are the friggen' gold-standrd of public relations? When people from successful niche houses re thanking you for mentioning their perfumes, even sending you perfumes because they hope that you will mention them, it seems that much more absurd that anyone would complain about a mention. Even if it had nothing to do with the actual perfume.

    Let me tell you, if I ever create a perfume, I will beg, borrow, or steal whatever I need to, if just to get you to publicly say the name! 🙂

    An elegant assault, dear T. Cheers!

  2. I think that “by the way” part of her response is priceless! Just WOW. Some people just have no clue…
    Thank you, Tarleisio, for both postings -I enjoyed them.

  3. Dee…trust me, I thought about it, really, I did! Then I thought that might be awarding her altogether more PR than she surely deserved!

    As you rightly point out, perfume bloggers are the gold standard of perfume PR – something even mainstream houses are aware of. Indeed, many names we now bandy around – Andy Tauer is a prime example – would not be who they are today without bloggers.

    Of course, it goes without saying that if you ever create a perfume, I'll write about it! Isn't that what friends are for? 😉

  4. JoanElaine…some people, I swear…I went back and checked her response to my message actually, and it was even more arrogant than I remembered – or even wrote about! (Which only goes to show that maybe I have better manners?)

    Too bad you can't get a sample and blog about it. It smells really good!<

    I should print that out and frame it…It's a CLASSIC….;)

  5. Only you could write so eloquently about such an insult. You are so right about Bloggers being the gold standard, for perfumistas as well as perfumers. I have learnt so much from you and your fellow bloggers. Most of my purchases have been from reviews. When ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise..

  6. RE: “Too bad you can't get a sample and blog about it. It smells really good!”

    Of course, this does not preclude a group of objective, disinterested perfumistas pooling their coins to BUY a bottle, which can then be reviewed fair and square… for good, or for very, VERY ill. Heh, heh, heh.

    *checks under couch cushions for loose change*

  7. If they only knew!
    You did the civilized and best thing. It almost sounds like whoever sent that note has no clue, it seems something like a form letter resulting from a Google search, they sent letters out and didn't look at/understand what they were doing.

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