The sweet smell of success: Why the fragrance industry needs a new approach
The inherent difficulty with marketing fragrance is the notion of persuading a customer to buy a product when its essential function cannot be conveyed, seen or felt through the screen or on the pages of a magazine. By its very nature, marketing a perfume has to do so much more than convince us of a pleasant aroma. And the industry is vast, from the stalwart classic of Chanel No. 5 to Justin Bieber’s ‘Girlfriend’ and everything in between. So, just how does a fragrance brand rise above the marketing clutter?
In celebrity we trust
What better way to get your product seen by millions than a cleverly placed ad in the commercial break of a primetime TV show? The problem is that people aren’t buying into the look of a fragrance and its other ‘benefits’ are not easy to demonstrate. The fact of the matter is, the vast majority of perfume advertisements make absolutely no effort to describe the scent itself. Instead, perfume brands are now overwhelmingly using celebrities to sell their product. This worked fantastically well in 1957 when Audrey Hepburn supposedly ‘forbade’ Givenchy from releasing her signature scent, hence the name Forbidden, but is increasingly losing its impact as the likes of Katie Price, Ivanka Trump and Jersey Shore’s ‘Snooki’ release their own ranges. Back in the 50s Hepburn really did wear the scent she was linked with but now? We’re not so sure. Consumers no longer trust celebrity endorsements like they once did and we can see why.
A captivating image, voice-over and storyline can go a long way in print, video and web advertisements. When it comes to the allure of a scent, we want to be persuaded that a perfume will deliver unique benefits to us. It’s the reason so many perfume brands use sex to sell their product; ‘not only will you smell nice but use this perfume and your scent will entice the wo/man of your dreams too’. Successfully pushing the message that your product can raise self-esteem, sexual allure and more was, historically, the most effective way to sell a fragrance. The problem now is that not only is the market saturated but perfume marketers are becoming increasingly unadventurous, according to the ever-outspoken Vice all perfume ads are ‘almost exactly the same’.
Is this approach still relevant?
Marketers spent a whopping $800 million on perfume ads and in 2015 fragrance makers launched over 100 new scents, but it seems that their time and efforts were not as fruitful as intended. Despite the mammoth spend, four out of the five top fragrance brands have been sitting pretty at the top for over a decade with few others coming even close (Daisy by Marc Jacobs being the only breakthrough perfume in 10 years). Perfume is a Destination Brand and fragrance shoppers will often make repeat purchases rather than consider one of the multitude of alternatives on offer. TV adverts do little to address this, in fact, according to The Fashion Law only 6% of respondents said that TV advertising was the reason for purchasing a perfume. This means that for those who aren’t in the top 5, a different approach may be necessary.
Just as an aside: this fantastic 2016 Kenzo ad directed by Spike Jonze IS worth a watch.
Using the senses - an alternative approach
It seems that the fragrance industry is crying out for a new approach. But how do you sell a product that has no tangible benefits and whose essential purpose cannot be communicated visually or aurally? You take an alternative approach that enables you to use all of the senses. While ABL campaigns resort to increasingly homogenised visual ads to sell fragrance, an approach that utilises consumers in the marketing mix and allows consumers and would-be consumers to get their hands (and noses) on your fragrance, offers a fresh approach. According to Nielsen, it also has the added bonus of being the most trusted form of advertising there is.
Fragrances smell subtly different on all those who wear them and an adored perfume needs to be smelt to be believed. No matter how persuasive a TV ad is, if it doesn’t smell good on, then a potential consumer will walk away. This is why trial is critical in ensuring a fragrance brand’s message stands out above the cacophony of marketing noise, but how is this achieved? Some perfume brands are still opting to use ‘spritzers’ in department stores, these people spray fragrance indiscriminately but don’t have the efficacy or success rate that a personalised, targeted trial would have. By entrusting your existing consumers with the occasion to ‘spritz’ friends and family who they know to be interested, you can build an army of trusted brand ambassadors who are welcomed into potential consumers’ homes. This is particularly valuable at a time of year when marketers’ thoughts are turning to the Christmas period.
Christmas Gift Gurus
In the UK a whopping 49% of all perfume sales happen in November and December, making Christmas a key time for fragrance sales. Marketers have already found that an amazing Christmas ad isn’t enough to guarantee sales. Two-thirds of branded conversations happen offline, meaning fragrance brands that do not tap into this, risk only benefitting from 33 per cent of the potential. By identifying the right consumers and equipping them with the tools and samples to share with people in their social circles, they’ll not only distribute your fragrance to their friends who are genuinely interested but also share your brand story in an authentic and credible way. Used in conjunction with traditional advertising, you’ll feed both ends of the sales funnel and deliver real results in time for Christmas.
The real opportunity
The real opportunity for fragrance brands is in harnessing the power of these people, transforming them into perfume experts – and empowering them do the educating. The best part is that people are ready and willing to get involved and are thoroughly bored of the current approach. Consumers are intelligent, savvy beings that no longer just want to consume – they want to play an active role in the marketing mix. All brands need to do is give them the expertise and the tools, and a unique and effective marketing campaign will follow.