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Jaguars, Obsession and Men's Care

By: Jeff Falk
Posted: February 21, 2014, from the March 2014 issue of GCI Magazine.

Typically, I don’t have to ask you until the second paragraph to bear with me while I wind my way to my point, but this month, I’m laying this column out for you just as it unfurled from my brain. So bear with me...

Late in 2013, a number of publications and blogs picked up a story about the methodology Miguel Ordeñana, a biologist with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, uses to study the solitary, nocturnal jaguars of Nicaragua. These large cats are shy, silent and decked out in fur coats designed to camouflage them, making them rather difficult to spot, let alone study, in the dark. To do what a biologist does, Ordeñana needs to lure them to a spot. He needs bait, and scent is good bait for jaguars.

Ordeñana told Scientific American’s The Thoughtful Animal blog (the original source for the story) a Bronx Zoo researcher experimented with scents before settling on Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men as the biggest turn-on for big cats. Yep. Department store fine fragrances are for all kinds of hunters. Ordeñana told the blog the civetone and vanilla used in Obsession for Men are the key notes for attracting the jaguars (and my colleagues at Perfumer & Flavorist magazine would be able to provide more insights into these notes and the composition of fragrances for anyone interested). The civetone resembles a territorial marking to the jaguar, and vanilla, Ordeñana hypothesizes, might prompt the cat’s curiosity.

When I first read this story, I thought, “Hmmm. That’s interesting. I’ll publish it in GCI’s Go! section simply because it is interesting.” But I also remembered Kent, a friend I had in college. Kent was a couple of years older, maybe 23 at the time, but already balding and sporting a pot belly. He also smoked like a chimney and had, I think, zero sense of smell. He’d show up at the apartment I shared with a roommate absolutely drenched in Obsession. He’d take the elevator the three floors up and have to head straight to our balcony to have a post-elevator smoke, Obsession trailing behind him like bread crumbs so he could find his way back. To this day, whenever I catch a whiff of Obsession for Men, I also swear I smell Winston Golds.

That brings me to the topic covered in this issue’s market report from Euromonitor International, “It’s a Man’s World: Men’s Grooming Breaks New Ground.” Thinking about Kent, not an atypical guy (a somewhat slobby guy who still spent time with toiletries), I think about what a tough nut men are to crack in terms of personal care. We’re definitely a lucrative consumer base—I’m sure Kent alone added a hefty sum to Calvin Klein’s bottom line—but I think, in general, we’re also a fairly clueless consumer base in terms of personal care. We like products and grooming, but simply don’t invest the time in purchasing decisions for either, generally speaking. We’re a bit lazy. We’ll use it when we’ve got it, but getting it may be a challenge for us. And then remains the perception problem when it comes to buying products beyond those that are fairly basic.

“Tapping into burgeoning global demand for men’s grooming products is no easy matter, however, especially for brand owners that have spent decades nurturing female consumers,” writes Euromonitor’s Rob Walker. “L’Oréal, for example, has channeled substantial investment into its Men Expert line, but the L’Oréal brand, per se, is still fundamentally associated with women. For some men, that remains a barrier to buying it.”

But again, it’s worth strategizing ways past the barriers. Walker notes more and more men are putting higher stock in looking good and have more disposable income than women. Men’s care, in short, is “one of the most opportunity-rich categories in beauty and personal care,” and getting the strategy right is everything. Walker cites some of the men’s brands winning consumers and market share, and I think they must have had their own Kent in mind, focusing on simplicity of use and an intrinsically male profile.