August 14, 2022

Advertising: Diving Into Reeking Squalor to Test an Air Freshener

Typically, an actress realizes that her immaculate suburban home has been fouled by the smell of cooked fish, her husband’s cigars or her teenage son’s gym bag. After she sprays air freshener, however, odors disappear, as evidenced by her ecstatic inhalations and, occasionally, by her being instantly transported to a flower garden or orange grove.

Febreze, the Procter Gamble brand, is turning its nose up at that approach.

For a series of television commercials and online videos, the brand recruited subjects off the street, who agreed to be blindfolded for what they were told was a scent experiment. Then, in video captured by hidden cameras, the participants were guided into odoriferous settings, like a dilapidated motel room strewn with dirty clothes, a secondhand store filled with threadbare furniture and soiled stuffed animals, and a cramped Chinese restaurant kitchen with whole uncooked fish on counters.

In the commercials, each setting is shown being treated with a Febreze product, like fabric spray or room spray, before the blindfolded subjects are led in.

In one spot, two women approached on the street in the SoHo section of Manhattan are led blindfolded into an abandoned section of a building, where they are seated on an old, torn couch that has clumps of dog hair.

As two dogs dart around the room, they are asked by an off-screen interviewer to take deep breaths and report what they smell.

One of the women says, “Light floral, lilac,” and “Like when you have fresh laundry.” The other adds, “Maybe even a little bit of citrus,” “a little bit beachy” and “wispy white curtains.”

They are told to remove their blindfolds, and the squalor of the room registers on their shocked faces, with both saying, “Oh, my god,” before two members of the film crew approach them wielding Febreze.

“Join us on Facebook for more experiments as Febreze sets out to make everyone breathe happy — no matter what,” says a voiceover, as the slogan for the campaign, “Breathe Happy,” appears on the screen.

The spots, by Grey New York, part of the Grey Group unit of WPP, are scheduled to be posted on YouTube and Facebook on Friday and to be shown on television beginning July 7.

“What we have done is put our products to the ultimate torture test,” said Jeff Pierce, a spokesman for Febreze. “If Febreze is so strong that it works in this dirty hotel room or on this gross couch, then it’s definitely going to work on my seemingly clean couch, blanket or any fabric in the home.”


Tor Myhren, president and chief creative officer at Grey New York, said the impetus for the campaign came from a consumer focus group.

“Someone said, ‘You can close your eyes, but you can’t turn off your nose,’ and that’s a brilliant insight,” Mr. Myhren said. “We said that’s a big, big, big idea that we need to bring to life.”

Members of Procter Gamble’s research and development team were on the sets for the commercials, which were shot in New York and Los Angeles.

“The R. D. team would be there with their clipboards and they’d walk in and would say that they thought the malodor was there,” said Elena Grasmann, a vice president at Grey who attended the shoots. (Ms. Grasmann’s own assessment: “It smelled.”)

After Febreze representatives sprayed the sets with the product, they, along with the director and representatives from Grey, huddled in a nearby trailer and watched the proceedings unfold on monitors.

“We all sat there watching and we were anxious and then we were amazed,” said Ms. Grasmann. For the scientists, it was particularly “rewarding for them given that they worked on these products,” she said.

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