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Scent Sleuth: Do Cultural Preferences Influence Fragrance Development?

By: Nancy C. Hayden
Posted: September 5, 2008, from the September 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

A number of factors have long differentiated the preferences of cultures worldwide. There are different tastes in foods and spices, in colors and clothing design, and in scents, too. Climate, raw materials, and the availability and variety of food sources all influence the preferences of local populations.

The ancient civilizations of Egypt, Rome and Greece, used scents abstracted from flowers, woods, resins and spices to perfume their bodies. Modern perfumery originated in Italy and France, and flowery and citrus scents, like scents of the ancient past, were indigenous to their growing regions.

Today, tastes and trends must be considered globally in order to effectively market a product, and understanding regional preferences is a prerequisite. Though the U.S. has had a knack for creating demand for its products and establishing trends, the U.S. fragrance market did not truly begin until after World War II, when many perfumers immigrated to the U.S. This, along with the synthesis of odoriferous materials, changed the world.

I remember my first meeting with Jean Amic in Paris, whose family founded Roure DuPont. He was fascinated with the marketing of Estée Lauder’s fragrances, as well as Revlon’s Charley and, of course, Jovan’s Jovan Musk. The French turned up their noses at the brassiness and strength of these fragrances. They were not subtle or refined, melding to the skin through their infusion of naturals, a quality French fragrances were known for. But what they did have in common with French fragrances was identity and strength. Signature was the name of the game, along with a dynamite marketing strategy.

Marketers have the road map and the creative impetus to drive a new product to success with glamour and imagery. To complement this ability, leading essential oil houses have developed research and manufacturing sites in emerging markets where growth potential is ripe and regional preferences are still a consideration. Many global companies—Unilever, L’Oréal, P&G and Colgate are prime examples—develop formulas in their country of operation and then send them to regional facilities for adjustment to the tastes of that region’s consumers.