Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Guest Post: Fragrance Companies - Beware Of Men And Older Women by Elena Vosnaki

It's a known fact that the fragrance industry generates the majority of its profits from purchases made by women. But men are buyers too, with the need to have their toiletries appeal to them, and the right to choose them on their own, instead of always being presented with them as gifts. Men are now the latest victims of the advertising world's constant evolution, falling prey to ill-judged campaigns that recycle the same tired ideas over and over: the rich young stud who's stellar in business and a tiger in bed (or vice versa, take your pick). Older women are victims of a different kind of approach, one that pushes them to the fringe of olfactory acceptance and stigmatizes them as "smelling of old ladies".

Men have traditionally worn what pleases women rather than themselves. Generations of men have been conditioned to believe that they should wear what appeals to potential (or existing) partners. Therefore the bulk of men's fragrance purchases is actually carried out by women. "If Susan likes it laced with Polo, let Susan pick the Polo she likes," or so the thinking goes. But men are smarter than they're generally considered to be: they tend to stick with what works! So what should fragrance companies do? One way of holding on to loyal male customers would be to stop messing with what they repeatedly use. Men consistently buy certain products - or consistently ask to receive them as presents - for a reason. Yet perfume manufacturers don't appear to understand this and insist on tinkering with their releases all the time: trimming the line, cheapening the formula, discontinuing slow sellers... the works!

On the other hand, the industry is also trying to capitalize on a new type of man - the metrosexual - by creating whole cosmetics lines (complete with fragrances) devoted to his well-being. However, the majority of men, even the most dedicated, preening metrosexuals, would not go into a department store full of women's products, test and try everything in sight, and walk out carrying heaps of purchases. A little-known piece of research (conducted by the author) suggests that a man's average attention span in a department store cannot exceed 5 minutes (unless he's looking at cars or electronic gadgets!) and that men still carry the hunter's gene. Once the boar is killed they can go home; they don't need to check out the whole forest for extras.

Older women are similarly more brand loyal, more pointed buyers, so one would assume that the fragrance industry would want to keep them happy too. But no! The same thing happens again: companies cut back on older issues, alter the composition of a fragrance and add insult to injury by denying their tactics. The mind boggles!

It would make much more sense NOT to mess with what faithful customers know and love. If they're loyal buyers, then they're repeat buyers, and they tend to advertise their love for the company to their acquaintances and friends, which is basically free press for the brand in question. Why play around with that?? By changing the formula of a perfume to cheapen the cost of the compound (the finished, undiluted mixture of essences and aromachemicals) and then having the audacity to deny it to their bemused consumers, companies show that they do not care for their loyal patrons. When someone buys a beloved perfume, they're essentially buying beloved memories, as smell is intricately woven into our fact retention. When you ruin the memories by altering the actual scent, you create huge disappointment, more profound than discontinuing a favourite shade of blusher or nail polish.

With this practice, companies are shooting themselves in the foot and entering a vicious circle. The consumer of the bubbly new stuff is as easily attracted by 'newness' from another brand or company: they buy one bottle and then, like butterflies, fly away to harvest another blossom. Therefore, in their quest to capture that disloyal consumer, fragrance companies have to issue more and more new editions and flankers, resulting in haphazard efforts that are almost programatically destined to be failures. The time frame of a successful presence in the market has fallen from ten years to just three in the last two decades. Few recent fragrances can be said to have been so commercially successful as to have maintained a prominent shelf presence of more than 5 years (think: Light Blue, J'Adore, Angel, Coco Mademoiselle), whereas older classics have endured for decades and created their own myths (think: No.5, Shalimar, Eau Sauvage, Diorissimo, Miss Dior, Diorella, Poison, Opium).

When companies start ruining their classics in order to cut costs or appeal to a 'new' demographic, they dilute their prestige and their credibility. It would be better if they created something that could stand on its own feet in the modern world, something stemming from the desire to produce an original product, something that would be a reflection of one person's vision rather than everybody's ideal 'package'... something that could become tomorrow's classic and would cause men and older women to keep coming back for several years' worth of repeat purchases and maintain their attachment to happy memories.

© 2011 Elena Vosnaki

About the guest blogger: Elena Vosnaki is an archaeologist, historian and the editor of the popular blog, Perfume Shrine. She is an experienced fragrance consultant and copy writer, as well as being the author of several articles that have appeared in various international publications, including Harper's Bazaar and Sniffapalooza Magazine; in 2009, one of her contributions to the latter - focussing on the work of Jean Claude Ellena - was shortlisted for a Fifi Award. She is Editor In Chief of Perfumism.com, an independent, non-commercial platform for perfumery discourse. She is currently writing a book on perfume.


  1. Great read Elena, I really laughed at the part, "Once the boar is killed they can go home; they don't need to check out the whole forest for extras." I can imagine a forest now full of cosmetics and bottles hanging off trees!

    I think maybe the nature of the beast/boar is that the sheer volume of fragrances mean, interest is diluted. To choose from over 1000 potential fragrances, and the decline in spending, it's difficult for the houses to really hit the nail on the head. Had there be only 100 fragrances to choose from, sales would show a much more focused interest in one perfume as there's less to choose from... maybe it's a snowball effect in that, the houses themselves are to pull the reigns in and focus less on "more more more" and "more" on quality.

  2. I was under the impression fragrances are primarily reformulated due to
    a) comply with revised safety regulations or
    b) scarcity of original material used in the original formulation
    -not simply to cut costs, tinker, or annoy loyal customers as the article is suggesting.

  3. You speak from my heart, Elena! Great article! It should be mandatory reading for industry executives.

  4. Liam,

    thank you! Glad you had a kick out of it! And thanks to Persolaise for uploading and hosting.

    Too much on offer unavoidably makes the things on offer seem less appealing somehow. It does drive up the insatiability to buy more, more, more, but it lessens the satisfaction derived from those purchases, IMO. It's hard to reconcile the two, I guess. Diluted interest is a good turn of phrase for that.

  5. Thank you Carrie! I'm grateful that Persolaise hosted it.

  6. Kev,

    since the article is directed at the fragrance companies as business beings, rather than philanthropic institutions, the business point of view has been emphasized, as in "why drive away the repeat & certain in lieu of the new". In that regard, profits and marketing decisions play a far greater role than the -largely unavoidable, by now- IFRA cuts and restrictions necessitated.
    There are several fragrances in the market for instance that have absolutely no reason to get reformulated or discontinued apart from being slow sellers in today's economy. But it's convenient to blame everything on a superior power ("my hands are tied") or loss of natural resources ("we travelled the lengths and breadths of the world to harvest this latest ingredient"). I call a spade a spade when I see it.

  7. B,

    thank you very much for the kind words!

    I sincerely hope that the power of the Internet has brought this small but compact and fervently passionate circle of perfume lovers into the attention span & scope of business decision centers. There is a market segment here and it's worth making its opinion known.

  8. Once again, I'd like to thank Elena for her article... and I'd also like to contribute to the discussion.

    I popped into Harrods the other day and was aghast at how many Christmas gift sets have been dragged back out for the summer sale. Tons and tons of unsold stock... and almost all of it was of the sort of 'disposable', uninspiring work you've mentioned in your article: Belle d'Opium, Hot Water, Polo Big Pony etc etc.

    The public voted with their feet (noses?) when this stuff first came out, but are the marketeers going to listen? I doubt it.

    This is one of life's great paradoxes. People who know nothing about education become education ministers, people who know nothing about economics become high-profile financial advisers and people who know nothing about the public's tastes become marketing execes.

  9. Great post, Elena!

    I joke (slightly serious too) that I'd like to start a men's fragrance liberation. Men haven't found what they like because the industry hasn't let them. As long as you are wearing things for others, you'll never have a fragrance voice.


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