Equivalence

Equivalent objects have a common measure of value. They are comparable. Equivalence connotes interchangeability. And equivalent objects, having lost their uniqueness, can be reproduced and repeated without loss of identity. In selling perfume, smell is sundered from its natural context. It is no longer a sign but a symbol. It thus becomes available for attachment to a variety of values or for use in exchange for a variety of experiences. Experiences such as joy, wonder, peace, sexual pleasure and fulfillment, are in turn treated as equivalent in that they, too, are reproducible and interchangeable.

Illustrative of how abstraction clears the way for equivalence exchange is this ad for Megara Parfum. This print ad differs little from television ads for fragrances that use framing devices to create the impression that model and named perfume are interchangeable equivalents. Model and product can be read as currency for the other insofar as written across both model and perfume is the same inscription -- be it "Charlie" or "CK1." This encourages viewers to see the model's perceived attributes (the signified) embodied in the bottle, so that she might hope to appropriate, upon purchase, the promise of the sign inscribed on the bottle. The reader "is meant to imagine herself transformed by the product into an object of envy for others," just as in reading the ad she envies the commodity-mediated attributes of the model (Berger, 1972:134). The advertising form itself functions as a transformational field within which this currency is established and begins to circulate. In the case of the Megara ad, the equation is direct and explicit. Not only does it draw a one to one equivalency: "fascinating and unpredictable (like a woman should be), it then situated the mortise with the product image into an equivalence with the model's image.

Equivalence does not destroy but redefines individuality. Adorno (1941:207) saw "pseudo-individualization" as the other side of the standardization brought about by mass-production and mass-consumption. Mass produced objects are offered as a means of establishing one's individuality. Thus Cachet is "As Individual as You Are." It is capable of being a mass-produced object and being unique at the same time. Note however that this logic is not confined to fragrances, but routinely extends itself into our relationship with most branded objects that appear in ads.

Appeals to pseudo-individuality in advertisements rest on the unstated premise that each consumer represents a standardized unit of consumption. Qualities of individuality, playfulness, and spontaneity seem to emanate from the product.