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Unilever and Fragrance: Emotion and Function

By: Jeb Gleason-Allured, with Rachel Grabenhofer
Posted: May 13, 2010

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The ultimate goal, says Bartoletti, is to “ensure fragrances are aligned with the overall signature of the brand; they support the brand heritage, image and its communication to the consumer in order to achieve differentiation.”

Unlike some consumer product competitors, Unilever has no internal fragrance creation/development programs. Instead, says Matheson, “We are trying to leverage the knowledge of the world. We’re using our scale. Once you make the choice that you’re not going to do [fragrance development] internally, then you really have to find the right partners.”

He adds that Unilever works to make such partnerships attractive to fragrance houses, providing incentives via opportunities for rapid growth. “It’s critical,” says Matheson, “because it’s the way to get the best fragrances— not a good fragrance, great fragrances. It’s easy to fall into the trap of good fragrances. If you go to the store, there are a hundred of them on the shelf, and they’re pretty reasonable because these companies are good. There’s not a lot of junk. But if you want to get to the really great ones, that’s a different level of work.”

How Fragrance Partnerships Work

Unilever has tweaked its normal approach to ideation with suppliers. The company recently held an immersive workshop over several days with four of its top fragrance suppliers. Participants met as a group and began not with Unilever presenting a wish list, but with suppliers identifying their key technologies and technology programs, as well as insights into their application. From there, the Unilever team was able to select projects based on a brand- and category-driven perspective.

“Obviously, fragrances are not in a vacuum,” says Matheson. “They have to be associated with the concept we’re building and hopefully help create the right emotional context for the consumer. Unilever is very good at emotional marketing. It’s very important that our business partners are intimately involved in the process as well, because we are matching the whole sensorial package with the [fragrance] concept.”