A Brief History of Saturday Night Live’s Best Perfume Ad Parodies

Ivanka Trump’s “Complicit” is the latest in a long line of Saturday Night Live sketches skewering the strange world of perfume ads.


Perfume ads are inherently ridiculous. This is in part because fragrances would be a very strange thing to market in a straightforward manner. Instead, these ads often market an idea or fantasy about the type of woman who might wear the product, often steeped in signifiers of luxury, romance and assertiveness. Which is fine, because all a perfume ad really needs to do is stick in your mind long enough so that when you see it sitting on the department store counter amongst hundreds of other scents you decide to at least give it a sniff to see if you actually like it.

Of course, this also makes perfume ads fertile ground for parody, as Saturday Night Live and Scarlett Johansson reminded us over the weekend with their now-viral Ivanka Trump perfume spoof.

Because perfume ads tend to be more about the type of woman who wears the scent than the scent itself, SNL uses the format to tell you exactly what kind of woman Trump is: complicit.

It’s the same conceipt Saturday Night Live used to hang a Chanel parody from a few years earlier with the Kristen Wiig-starring “Red Flag” commercial.

The joke isn’t so much about perfume ads, as they are about the ridiculous characters at the center of them.

Though, making fun of perfume ad clichés has proven fertile ground as well. This Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen commercial takes scent ads’ penchant for seductive voiceovers of evocative buzzphrases to extremes.

This Calvin Klein skewing-ad parodies the perfume commercial trope of fitting intense, wordless love stories into a minute long time frame, except, you know, with a dog.

This Gilda Radner classic pulls double comedy duty: it builds a ridiculous fantasy world that markets towards something that most perfume brands probably would not want to play up, and then it abruptly cuts to the reality of the morning after once the fantasy has played out.

Sometimes an actual perfume ad is so ridiculous that it calls out for a very specific skewering. This one, starring the late Phil Hartmann and Jan Hooks, is a near shot-by-shot spoof of an actual 1987 ad for Calvin Klein’s Obsession.

Then there was the more recent matter of Chanel’s Brad Pitt ads.

Of course, it’s not like the fashion world itself hasn’t caught on to the fact that perfume ads are kind of ridiculous. One of the most popular recent real perfume films, for Kenzo World, is itself a send-up of the genre.

Watch W’s Most Popular Videos: