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The Sweet Smell of Success

Posted by: Dyfed "Fred" Richards on Thursday, February 16 2012 01:59 PM

It’s that time of year when men go weak at the knees, generally act like fools and spend most of what’s in their wallets in the all-out pursuit of love. The price of flowers skyrockets, restaurant reservations become as rare as diamonds and – speaking of diamonds – jewelry ads clutter the airwaves and newspapers. It is de rigueur to purchase one or more tokens of affection for your significant other on Valentine’s Day. For many men, a safe and (somewhat) affordable choice is a bottle of perfume. Problem solved. Or is it?

The explosion of perfume brands in recent years is unprecedented, especially in the celebrity-endorsed category. The rule of thumb seems to be that you must have a signature scent to be taken seriously as a “star.” (“D-listers” need not apply.) To the perfume houses of the world it is serious business to sign the latest and greatest “It” girl or hunkomatic boy to endorse the newest smell in a bottle; Andy Warhol’s 15-minutes-of-fame prophecy seems to be alive and well in this category. It can be a dangerous strategy to link a brand with an individual whose celebrity may burn bright one day and flame out the next; however, when one of these fragrances hits the big time the rewards can be considerable for both star and perfume house.

But back to the consumer: How does a bewildered male select the right celebrity perfume brand for his special someone? More often than not, he will endeavor to navigate the cases and aisle displays of a department store perfume and cosmetics department – the poor fellow! Will his selection be Elizabeth Taylor’s classic White Diamonds, one of the first celebrity-endorsed fragrances and still one of the top-10 sellers? Or will he choose the much-promoted scent from a manufactured movie or television star? How about one from a former bad-boy rap artist or a perfectly coiffed teen singer? Purchasing perfume at a department store can trigger a dizzying sensory overload and intimidating experience at shelf. Overwhelmed, many men beat a hasty retreat to a perfume store – big mistake! There, they typically are confronted by shelves and shelves of various bottles and packages all screaming for attention while they fight their way through a crowd of giggling school girls covered in Hello Kitty glitter and lip gloss!

Two decades ago the perfume category was dominated by classics such as Chanel and brand choice was simple. Today, some perfume houses feature entire portfolios of scents dedicated to a single celebrity, and use a tiering strategy to milk the franchise for as long as the star remains relevant: The master celebrity brand is launched in high-end department stores, followed by the debut of flanker sub-brands and limited editions in mid-tier and mass-market retail stores. This is savvy marketing, as the widespread availability and affordability of these celebrity scents increases category awareness as a whole and supports brand stretch for both the celebrities and perfume houses. It’s a “good, better, best” approach to scent branding that consumers appear to understand and tolerate.

Another way that perfume houses strengthen the brand-consumer connection is by involving the celebrity in their scent’s creation, from inception through development and marketing. The celebrity’s participation in crafting their perfume and its brand proposition is what consumers see and appreciate; it also provides the authenticity consumers admire. (This interesting relationship between brand, manufacturer and consumer could provide insights for other categories.) I understand that Lady Gaga was a stickler for details in the development and launch of her scent with Coty; this is laudable and understandable, as the brand equity of both Gaga and the perfume house were on the line. Sean John Combs and J Lo seemed to have cracked the code with scents that might just outlast their singing careers. Sean John managed three years at the top spot for men’s brands, while J Lo launched Glow and generated over $80 million in first-year sales.

Unfortunately, none of this back story helps the poor sap who, at the end of the day, just wants to buy some perfume and make a positive, heartfelt impression on his beloved. My advice to fellow males is to do some homework before you make the trek to the department or perfume store. Flip through magazines or store circulars and sniff the perfume inserts. What scents do you find most appealing – sweet, citrus, or musky? Peruse the bottles on your lady’s dresser; what perfumes does she prefer and for what occasions? Then, armed with your new-found knowledge, let your nose lead you in the right direction.

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