The best perfume customer, Do such people exist? Can they exist? Are they us?
In the States we tend to reference Estee Lauder’s steady and entirely sensible business practices, the slow and persistent knock on consumers’ sensibilities with demonstrations, free samples, and gifts with purchase. Estee was in fact a follower of Francois Coty in all this. He too, wanted the wide market, and bet that he could obtain it-which he did of course- and with spectacular success. That all began though with demographic democracy by targeting the middle class consumer. That’s exactly what you don’t find anymore. The trouble is that the perfume market in the US has become as divergent as people’s income brackets. You have cheap celebrity scents on one end and top out of sight niche releases on the other end, at nose bleed prices. Never the two shall meet. Is that sensible?
If you target the rich you target a restless demographic that changes its scents as often as its mind. Were I selling perfume, I would want a stable bunch of customers, repeat customers, a large number of customers eg. middle class customers. Richistan is not the preferred destination.
The mistake though, and it’s a mistake neither Estee nor Francois Coty made, is to underestimate the middle class customer. “Coty had hit upon two essentials of modern business practice-on the one hand value for money, a pre-requisite of mass consumption, and on the other the cachet upon which a product relies for its survival.” wrote Elizabeth Barille in her biography of Coty.
This was during an era when the production of perfumes was much more expensive than it is today. For most of the twentieth century the development of a perfume took longer, and the cost was concomitantly higher. These days you have a very repetitive brief, a tiny budget, and a substantially larger sum spent on packaging and marketing, including naturally, the infamous test marketing. Cheap production by committee, results in a sea of similar brews, maybe once again, undervaluing that middle class buyer.
Coty did not market test. After his death in 1934 no doubt there was more “professional”
appraisal of new scents at his company, but for Coty the best customer, appraiser, and art director was himself. He was not alone in this methodology. Robert Ricci who was largely responsible for L’Air du Temps the Nina Ricci classic, had a similar approach, “… the creation and the presentation of a perfume come about only on my authority. I decide everything:the perfume, the bottle, the packaging and the publicity. I trust only what I like, and do not rely on market research.” This kind of perfume development is only to be found in the niche houses nowadays, and even then, so many new releases at one time, make it unlikely that any one scent is considered especially. Most releases, are yet another spritz at the brass ring. Who knows, you could get another Angel or J’Adore by accident.
Still there must be something to be said for the slower and steadier approach, keeping many perfumes in a line and “anniversarying” some of the hits in new flagons for their long time buyers. Look at Beautiful for instance, in its elegant new flask. There’s a good deal of sense to this way of doing things. Estee Lauder has been able to buy quite a lot of its competition lately, and you can’t do that unless you have cash and you don’t have that…unless you are doing something right for the broad middle of the market.
Do you have a favorite mass market release from the last year or two? Do you think you are part of the “middle market”?