In a recent thread at Basenotes.net, the topic of what makes a scent popular arose. I was reminded of something I heard quite a while ago about the The New York Times “Bestseller List.” Here is one take on it:
An endorsement from Oprah Winfrey. A film deal from Steven Spielberg. A debut at the top of The New York Times bestsellers list. These are the things every author craves most, and while the first two require the favor of a benevolent God, the third can be had by anyone with the ability to write a check — a pretty big one.
The point is that I have no way to know if a scent like Bleu de Chanel would generate huge sales or hardly any if it were to be sold by a brand like Lomani. I decided to do some do some basic searching, to see if there had been any relevant research on this subject. Below are passages from a few papers that I thought were the most illuminating.
Title of paper: “Taiwanese Consumers of Perfume:The Importance of Brand Familiarity & Communication Channels.”
Brand Familiarity is Key Out-of-Store (before & after purchase). It affects Taiwanese consumers’ decision-making before (when they consider the purchase) and after(evaluation) the purchase moment per se. It provides trust and helps consumers easily scope their choices, ultimately leading to a final choice of purchase or not. It is less important while Taiwanese consumers experience perfume purchase: the scent becomes the most important factor of the purchase experience in-store…
Title of paper: “Measuring Consumers’ Luxury Value Perception: A Cross-Cultural Framework.”
Hedonic Value – Certain products and services carry an emotional value and provide intrinsic enjoyment in addition to their functional utility (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982; Sheth et al. 1991, Westbrook and Oliver 1991). Studies in the field of luxury consumption have shown that luxury products are likely to provide such subjective intangible benefits (Dubois and Laurent 1994). Additionally, research concerning the concept of luxury has repeatedly identified the emotional responses associated with luxury consumption, such as sensory pleasure and gratification, aesthetic beauty, or excitement (Benarrosh-Dahan 1991; Fauchois and Krieg 1991; Roux and Floch 1996; Vigneron and Johnson 2004). Hence, hedonism describes the perceived subjective utility and intrinsically attractive properties acquired from the purchase and consumption of a luxury brand to arouse feelings and affective states, received from personal rewards and fulfillment (Sheth et al.1991; Westbrook and Oliver 1991). In sum:
…P3b: The consumer‘s perceived level of hedonism towards a luxury product or service and its property to satisfy an emotional desire for sensory gratification as best as possible is positively related to the individual luxury value perception.
A study entitled “An Experiment in Brand Choice” may provide some understanding about what is thought to be established as well as what such studies require:
QUOTE: The study of consumer dynamics-how people change their purchasing habits-is facilitated greatly by experiments in which marketing factors are deliberately varied. The cost of such experimentation in the marketplace is usually prohibitive…
The high level of brand switching observed in the
first few weeks did not last. After the period of search,
buyer behavior began to settle down as illustrated
by the 3-week penetration levels and average buying
frequency levels. These useful forms of analysis are
discussed elsewhere . The average figures sum-
marized in Table 1 reflect those for the individual
brands (the comparable results from the earlier study
are documented more fully in ).
The pattern for each brand in the first half of the
experiment was a downward trend of penetration and
an upward trend of the average buying frequency.
From this is seen the development of brand loyalty…
CONCLUSIONS This study is the second of two similar experiments on consumer dynamics. It confirms and extends the earlier findings.The evaluation of experimental buyer behavior under stationary conditions turned out to be simple because there is a generalized body of knowledge which summarizes stationary behavior in real life and the same patterns were found to recur under the experimental conditions. But for the dynamic situation, of course, there is no such body of real-life knowledge. Indeed, these experiments were directed toward producing some generalizable results under dynamic market conditions. Two things are required if this is to be achieved. First, many experiments must be conducted to determine whether results generalize even within the experimental context. Second,once a reliable and coherent body of experimental results has been built up, their validity must be tested in the marketplace. UNQUOTE.
Perhaps it’s worth mentioning here that the other day I saw a NatGeo “Brain Games” episode in which it was pointed out that simple things, such as blowing the scent around and playing the sounds of food sizzling on the grill, can lead to a willingness to eat “road kill” foods, such as Iguana Lasagna. Thus, one wonders how much major companies such as Chanel understand about how to influence consumer behavior. My guess is that such companies have more than a few “trade secrets” in this context! In any case, one thing that’s clear is that many if not most people are not going to do a great deal of research when they are thinking about buying a new bottle. To me the more interesting phenomenon involves people writing up reviews or posts defending a specific scent against charges that it is “generic” or mediocre. If a scent is considered “bad” by many people, by contrast, there is usually a reason why, such as a strong cumin or civet note, whereas what I noticed in the case of Bleu de Chanel, many people seemed to think that they needed to “defend” it, even though there was little mentioned about how it actually smelled. In any case, if you want to hear my thoughts about defending the mediocre or generic, you can read my recent post about the Bleu de Chanel “wars.”
Lastly, I’ll close with a thought I had about what might be the major problem with “mainstream designer” scents these days, at least to those of us who are seeking a reason to pay some attention to their recent releases. This thought occurred to me when I saw a “masculine” scent at Fragrantica.com called Club Men by Azzaro. The notes are listed as lemon, papaya, cannabis, hinoki, and musk. This makes it sound “niche,” and yet the reviews and online comments I’ve seen suggest that it is “generic” or like a light version of Black XS for Men, and not of any particular interest (very little if any detectable cannabis note), overall. If this is the case, why bother listing a cannabis note? Of course some of the reviewers may have been suffering from olfactory fatigue, but does any aficionado who hasn’t tried it think that it is going to be remotely like a niche scent? Instead, it may be that this is part of a new marketing strategy, which is to include at least one note that piques the interest of the aficionado while the scent actually is designed to appeal to the “average Joe.” While this is speculative, we’ve now seen a whole bunch of non-niche names/houses release scents with an oud note, for example, and in the ones I’ve tried the oud note is nowhere near as obvious as it is in a scent like vintage M7, for instance. However, another possibility is that enough “average Joes” have heard about oud at this point, so in this case these kinds of scents may not be marketed with aficionados in mind. Or it may be that there is a certain amount of groping in the dark occurring, with the “lesser” companies waiting for the major ones to do something “different,” and then they go ahead and make similar scents, though of course this would certainly be nothing new.