Do We Need Another Celebrity Fragrance?

April 21, 2009 by  Filed under: Marketing 

Do you remember as a child having a coloring book where you were shown a scene, perhaps some mountains with trees, a flowing stream and lake, a forest, etc. and below the picture the caption read:

“Hidden in this picture is a little boy in a cart being pulled by a donkey. Can you find them?”

No matter how hard you tried, you were unable to find them until you turned the page and the artist showed you how cleverly he had hidden them. They were there all the while, but you couldn’t “see the whole picture”………Well, let’s play a game….. Let’s see if you can find the “hidden picture” now…

We have heard quite a bit in the last few years, even prior to the downturn in the economy, about drooping cosmetic /perfume sales in the United States. We are told that annual sales are down one or more billion dollars. Now I do not claim to be an expert in economics, but I have made some subtle if not interesting observations. My company, Lorenzo Siena Fragrances, is barely 3 years old. I am doing well; I am a relative new-comer to the fragrance business and perhaps that “in and of itself” qualifies me to make the forthcoming observations.

The fragrance market in the US today seems to be “locked into” the same old mold. The poet EE Cummings once wrote, “the cult of same is all the chic.” He could well have been writing about the fragrance business here. The paradigm used is the same old thing “like the proverbial dog that chases its tail” and keeps running in circles. My background is 36 years in the classroom as a high school teacher, and my journey “from classroom to the fragrance” these last few years has been a fascinating one. It has also been quite successful. Perhaps it is because I am “outside the box” or “paradigm” and have, I believe, a clearer view. I need no focus group to tell me what I see, and what I see is not just a “glut” of new fragrance releases (that is not the problem), but a marketing technique that is “tired and old.”

The fragrance “power companies” here seem “enamored” with big names, for obvious reasons. The use of big named Hollywood stars” or “sports figures” may have “drawing power”, however, there is a “downside” to this. Many of today’s new fragrances are “dead upon arrival”, and yet the fragrance business persists in following a “failed paradigm”. Do I sound arrogant? Hardly. I do not mean it unkindly though unkindly it may be taken. Last time I checked, celebrities had the same rights as me. They are free to enter the fragrance industry and compete. However, I believe there is a better place and use for celebrities in the fragrance business. I am a part of this fragrance industry…a minor part. I am a small “start up” company, and many small independent companies like mine are doing well! I have tried to avoid the pitfalls of the big cosmetic companies. I respect their past success, but I want to avoid their mistakes.

Recently, a major orange juice company changed the “carton design only” of their famous orange juice. The “New York Times” reported a few weeks ago about the “public outcry” over this change. Interesting. The parent compan was flooded with emails, phone calls and complaints. Thus, Tropicana reverted to its old carton design. What does this tell us in regards to the fragrance business or any other industry for that matter? I believe the public is looking for “stability”…not constant change,… especially with a product they have come to “know and love.” I realize “stability” may frighten some in the fashion /fragrance world because they may think of it as “stagnation” —but that is precisely what the people at the ornage juice company thought. They felt a need to change a perfectly successful design. They wanted “new”—again—and the public reaction was negative. (You can’t pay to get that kind of consumer loyalty—but you CAN ruin it!)

In the fragrance market today, we do not even give the public a chance to digest “the new”, never mind develop a loyalty to the old, but in a few exceptional cases, and those few fragrances have been well established for decades and for good reason.

I believe the public is really tired of big names in Hollywood and sports trying to sell them fragrances. Sure, the name recognition is there and some sell very well, but I believe the public wants their actors to act, their singers to sing and their sports stars to play sports. Years ago, it took Ford Motor Company only one Edsel to learn from their mistake. They didn’t repeat their folly; they recognized it and adapted.

Now with a great emerging market in Brazil and Russia, are we to repeat the errors of declining sales here in the US and bring them there? Will we have soccer players in Rio with their own fragrance brand?

I may be “outside the box” looking in, but I believe I have a clearer picture. ” I may not fit the “paradigm,” but that is fine with me. I am progressing quite nicely with my men’s cologne and expect to have similar results with my two new launches this year. I think I have a “beat” on the public’s desires, and it doesn’t take marketing polls to discover this.

The answer to me is simple–so simple that I think many are missing the “little boy, the cart and the donkey” in the picture, if not the entire forest. Produce a quality product at a reasonable price and don’t try to “trick the public into thinking that “big name stars” are suddenly “fragrance aficionados and experts.”

I firmly believe that one may use these stars as “spokespersons” and have them tell why they like a certain fragrance and even have them “endorse a product”, but to simply “slap another star’s name” on a bottle hoping that it will sell the product only sells the fragrance industry and the consumer “short.”

This is going on to the detriment of the business as a whole.

For every successful Hollywood fragrance launch, there are literally dozens of other big name “flops.”

My suggestion would be that the big fragrance houses start “partnering up” with small independents instead of “super-stars” but use the “star power” of Hollywood/sports figures to endorse these items. There is a big difference in this.

Herman Melville, in discussing the “mystical properties of water”, in his novel Moby Dick wrote, “If Niagara were a cataract of sand, would you travel a thousand miles to see it?” The same is true with perfume and cologne. If all of these “mystical fragrances” blend into one Hollywood marketing style, then the “mystical” is lost. Melville might then ask, “If fragrances mean another Hollywood counterfeit, would you travel even five miles to a fragrance counter to make a purchase ?” Could this be why the “niche” brands are doing so well? Have they managed to maintain the “mystical”?

Internet sales are doing well and small “niche brands” are cutting into the larger market. They now account for an even higher percentage of sales… and all of this “without the use and associated cost of “celebrity name brands”. Does this tell us anything?

I too am anticipating another very good year for my company.

If there is a lesson in all this, it may very well be:

Caveat Emptor! In flagrante delicate … (Let the Buyer Beware …while the act is in progress!)—— —–and the seller too!

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