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The Sweet Smell of Your Brand’s Success

By: Abby Penning
Posted: January 19, 2011, from the January 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Creating the right fragrance for your products isn’t easy, however. “There are certainly challenges to hinging a brand’s identity to a certain type of scent, as there can be a distinct polarity with certain types of scent,” says Overstreet. And emotional associations with a particular fragrance can vary wildly from person to person. “Patchouli is a classic example where people either love it or hate it—there isn’t often a middle ground—and that will significantly affect a product if it includes patchouli,” Overstreet explains.

Sometimes, finding the right inspiration can help to create a perfect signature fragrance, whether it is for a fragranced product or a fine fragrance itself. Spilka recently assisted in launching a Beverly Hills-licensed fine fragrance line that was inspired by and created with local southern California flora. “We worked off inspirations of a scent with floral, fruity notes that are indigenous to that part of the state,” he notes. “The scent includes notes such as peony and sweet pea that are familiar to that part of the United States. And there were other products, such as the California Redwood tree, that served as further inspiration. Obviously, the redwood is protected and cannot be extracted for use in perfumery, but we really looked to that type of rarefied inspiration for the fragrances’ design. The beauty and stature of flora and fruit from California really helped personalize the fragrance.”

A unique idea can also bring scent to the forefront of a product’s development. For designer Tod Young, founder of Tod Young Inc. and creator of the Palettes home fragrance range, matching scents with colors was his personal lightning bolt. “I asked myself the question, ‘If color had a scent, what would it smell like?’ and I used that inspiration to create the Palettes line,” he says. After researching various color palettes and home décor scenes, Young worked with a perfumer to associate the color palettes he chose—neutral, pastel, primary, jewel, earth and gray—with fragrances. “We worked together to understand how these colors could be interpreted aromatically,” he explains. “For example, the primary color has more of a bold punch, while the earth tone is more woodsy.” And Young is now working to translate the home fragrances into scents for the beauty industry. “They are very complex, even unusual fragrance combinations,” he says of those he’s developed. “That helps make them different, helps them stand out.”

For the development of scents for its Axe brand’s products, Unilever does extensive research before delving into its actual fragrance development, learning about what its consumers currently like and don’t like, and then mining into these findings for deeper, underlying insights. From these insights, they create a fragrance brief, which points to the scent notes a new fragrance for a particular product should contain, or at least allude to. Unilever then has three different fragrance houses work on developing this signature scent before working with the houses’ consultants and its own in-house brand developers to choose the best iteration of the fragrance.

Supporting the Scent

That fragrance creation can often be supported by interesting ideas. As scent can be such a difficult and subjective element to get a handle on, brand owners often turn to the other senses to help them round out the definition of what they are seeking for the product they’re developing.