Bic Perfume Case Study

Seymour Chwast Collection Series 7. Bic Parfum slide, c. 1989.

In 1988, Bic launched a fragrance line, hoping, somehow, to bring the convenience of their pens, lighters, and razors to the world of perfume. The French company touted their product as “the world’s first fine French perfume that combine[s] high quality with affordable pricing and a stylish, portable design.” Four fragrances were produced: “Jour” and “Nuit” for women, plus “Bic for Men” and “Bic Sport for Men.” The pocket-size bottles were designed to resemble Bic lighters and sold for $5 in the same drugstores and supermarkets where other Bic products were made available.

It was a classic case of overreach (despite the “Paris in your pocket” pitch of their advertising) and Bic Parfum tanked, because it turns out people don’t want to buy French perfume from the same people who make their disposable lighters and plastic pens. Production and distribution in most markets ceased in 1991, though apparently it is still produced and sold in Iran.

However, let us not find fault with the charming packaging for the US designed by Seymour Chwast. His typically bright and playful illustrations adorn several versions he developed for the brand.

Seymour Chwast Collection Series 7. Bic Parfum slide, c. 1989.

Seymour Chwast Collection Series 7. Bic Parfum slide, c. 1989.

Seymour Chwast Collection Series 7. Bic Parfum slide, c. 1989.

Chwast experimented with several different approaches; the examples below are more type-centric.

Seymour Chwast Collection Series 7. Bic Parfum slide, c. 1989.

Seymour Chwast Collection Series 7. Bic Parfum slide, c. 1989.

This one gets closest to the glamor and exoticism generally favored by fragrance companies in the 80s.

Seymour Chwast Collection Series 7. Bic Parfum slide, c. 1989.

This post also appears on our Picturebox blog.

At some point, major corporations are going to have start learning that parody is protected speech and fighting against it just makes them look silly. I sort of thought Larry Flynt settled that some time back, but apparently not. From professional sports teams, to well-known bands, to cable companies, corporations just seem to have the thinnest of corporate skin.

Now, thanks to reader Mike Mozart, we can add BIC, makers of pens and shaving equipment, to the list of companies that are going after obvious parodies. This all started when an obviously fake customer service letter with BIC's logo atop it went viral recently. Here's a picture of the letter:

Should you be unable to read it, it's a humorous fake reply by BIC to a customer complaint about BIC pens that were only able to draw certain, um, things. You should be able to get the gist of it from this text in the letter:

Having spoke to our team of engineers, we cannot ascertain why one of the medium point BIC crystal ball point pens that you purchased "only draws massive cocks". We have never heard of this occurring previously and we couldn't recreate this anomaly so we can only assume that this pen was temporarily possessed and we will drop it off at a local church for exorcism.

Hopefully it won't accidentally end up next to the marriage register.

We are sorry to hear that this pen ruined your Grandmother's birthday card and that you must now sign for credit card purchases by "penning an enormous phallus"...Yes, the pen lids are very good for scratching your ears and blowing through the lids is a great way to annoy people. no, we have never received any reports of our orange BIC disposable razors shaving penises into things.

Many thanks,

Edgar Hernandez

Advertising and Promotional Products
Now, the letter includes jokes about genetalia, so of course I think it's hilarious, but even if this humor is too low-brow for you, you're hopefully not so dense as to be confused over whether this is real or not. I mean, it'd take quite the gullible loon to surmise that this was a real letter from a real person at a real company's very real customer service department. I think humanity in general is smarter than that. BIC, apparently, disagrees.
When Digiday reached out to Bic, a spokesperson for the company replied:

“This letter is by no means an official document, this is just a forged document used for humoristic purposes by Internet users. The Bic Group is now trying to contact the transmitter website to ask them to point out that it is a fake and a joke and by no means an official document from the Bic company and, if necessary, to remove it from their website.”
Which is apparently exactly what they then did. There are several reports of the image being removed by social media sites and internet sites as BIC has been going around and filing takedown notices. Their logic is reportedly that their logo was used on the letter. Unfortunately for them, that is fairly well-traveled ground when it comes to the law's view on parody and speech. It's protected and those images should be put back up immediately.

And, on top of that, all this thin-skinned behavior is going to net the company is the photo and story going even more viral than it already has. In true Streisand Effect fashion, tons more people will now hear about this, the letter, and the company's response than ever would have if the folks at BIC had decided to just have a chuckle instead of going legal. So congrats, BIC. You're the proud owner of your very own crap-storm.

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