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Thinking Outloud: Paint It Black

By: Jeff Falk
Posted: October 10, 2008, from the January 2006 issue of GCI Magazine.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as big a fan of Johnny Cash as anyone and admit to laughing through Jack Black movies. Nonetheless, I’m confused about the deluge of men’s fragrances that have based their identity on black. Can we blame this fragrance marketing/positioning on the success of Drakkar Noir—that ubiquitous fragrance that scented bars and board rooms alike upon its introduction in 1982? Or are darker forces at work?

I’ve pinned the ads for a number of these fragrances up on my bulletin board, and handsome, masculine faces stare at me from behind Kenneth Cole Black, Stetson (yes, it’s back in … ) Black and two Azzaro fragrances—Silver Black and Onyx. Armani Code is also up there with a dark, brooding face and a pretty, yet somewhat obscured, woman. Granted, the name Code doesn’t refer to the absence of color, but the packaging falls into the same void as the others. I found three of these ads in the same issue of a consumer magazine. If it wasn’t for editorial curiosity, I’m fairly sure the magazine would have found its way into the trash while I operated under the assumption that someone had a lot of marketing dollars to burn on multiple ads for the same fragrance in a single issue.

Besides the aforementioned fragrances, a quick Google search revealed Polo Black by Ralph Lauren and Ferrari Black Eau de Toilette—Obsession Night for Men by Calvin Klein turns up, too. It seems to me that these fragrances are in danger of falling into a black hole on store shelves as well.

I’ve got a message for marketers: The rise of the “metrosexual” aside, we guys are rather thick when it comes to this kind of thing. We’ll stick with a product or fragrance once we’ve discovered and like it, but it’s going to take a whole lot more creativity to get most of us to realize that these are actually different products. I don’t believe our female better-halves will take the time to filter out the selections either – that’s the key role of packaging (under the guidance of marketing). I understand the need for simple packaging and masculine colors, but it’s a weak excuse not to strive for brand identity. I like my Guinness® black, but give me a little more credit for what will attract me to pick up a fragrance, give it a good whiff and walk with it in hand to the register.