Scent Sleuth: Fragrance Trends in Hair Care

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Remember Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific Shampoo? The brand and the marketing effort were a testament to the importance of the fragrance residual wafting from a freshly shampooed head of hair. The importance of fragrance in the overall perception of performance in today’s hair care, whether it is in the retail brand or in the salon brand, remains a factor in the success of hair care products. It’s all about the feel-good fragrance experience, and, as such, fragrance is an important marketing tool.

Fragrance Impacts Perception
Just how much does fragrance influence the perception of performance in shampoos? It must be totally integrated into the product line. Ask a consumer how she likes her new shampoo, and the comment is, typically, “It smells great.” And because it smells great she thinks it’s going to perform well on her hair. Salon stylists may critique products more on performance and total product effects, but, still, fragrance plays an essential role for these professionals because boredom does set in with repeated use of any one fragrance, which opens the door to line extensions that expand fragrance types.

Consumers have been bombarded with new trends in fragrance, and hair care now follows the fashion trends of fine fragrance.

When marketers introduce a new shampoo or line extension every six months they should expect a certain amount of consumer fickleness. The simple function of washing hair has become a sensory experience. While the salon visit remains an important routine for women, the frequency with which women wash their hair, with today’s free and easy hairstyles, continues to increase.

Shampoo products have exploded, and the definitive line between salon products and retail products has diminished. Upscale products are now available in specialty stores, drug stores and discount chains; so it is increasingly important, regardless of where a hair care line is launched or retailed, that scent be well thought-out and fully integrated into the line. And marketers must expect a certain amount of consumer fickleness. Fragrances have reached a new level of attracting consumers to buy and try a new shampoo, and while the tried-and-true megabrands have promised elevated performance, they must continue to address the scent dimension and heighten that experience to complement improving formulas.

Brands, Performance and Fragrance
Of the mainstay mass-retail brands, which had good brand identity at retail such as Breck, Prell, Head & Shouldters, and Alberto Vo-5, Clairol Herbal Essence stands out for its reliance on the marketing impact of its fragrance, which is a vital part of the brand identity and makes a direct reference to the product’s natural herbal complex. It was one of the first brands to realize both its impact and the power of fragrance to convey a natural message. Since P&G bought the brand and expanded its natural fruit flavors and botanicals, there has been an explosion of the brand premise, and the line and its fragrance themes are now expanding into bath and body care.

Garnier Fructis, a strong niche product line owned by L’Oréal that also relies on the natural fruit and vitamin theme, has expanded into myriad hair treatment products that have maintained the same fragrance theme of the original offerings, which rely on natural citrus blends of orange and grapefruit, pineapple and lemon. Unilever has expanded the entire Sunsilk product line through multiple fragrances that have expanded the fruity botanical trend.

Helene Curtis began the green apple fruity trend with Salon Selectives. The brand, recently reintroduced by a private group headed by former Helene president Gene Zeffrin, already achieved good on-shelf recognition, but will have to look into new marketing twists relying on fragrance to keep interest in the line. Finesse brand sales, also featuring a melon-based scent, have dwindled, indicating that the melon note, perhaps, has become too mundane.

The Dove line made a huge splash a few years ago, and has remained consistent with a very clean and soft mossy herbal fragrance that is an integral part of the formula and ties with the brand’s gentle cleansing theme. This is an illustration of a fragrance delivering the whole concept of cleansing and conditioning and leaving a wonderful aura of herbal notes on the hair. The fragrance carries the identity of the product. The identifying tie note is the herbal natural complex which has since been broken down into sub-categories within the brand. The line has kept up with fruity note trends since P&G bought it. The Herbal Essence theme has been expanded into bath and body care. The line caught the naturals theme early.

Understanding the Aura
Fragrance also may heighten the perception of hair care products’ functionality by imparting a subliminal message of quality and identity that can create an exhilarating experience. Marketers of shampoos for salon use have long understood this power, and this knowledge can be put to good use in retailing mass products, extending lines, and building and reinforcing brand identity.

“Where the brand’s identity is integral to the product performance, the fragrance is kept as part of its brand identity,” said Carlos Linares, R&D director, Alberto-Culver, noting that while there are some deviations in line extensions, a tie with the original must remain. Linares divides the company’s three hair care lines into three marketing categories—encompassing the VO5, Tresemme’ and Nexus brands. Brand loyalty, he states, to both Tresemme’ and the Nexus salon line means keeping the lines’ fragrances fairly consistent with ingrained consumer expectations. Consumers expect melon notes from Tresemme’ and a sweet coconut amber vanilla fragrance from the Nexus line—the latter being marketed as an up-scale salon-like brand.

“The VO5 line has more flexibility in capturing some of the fragrance trends,” says Shannon McKenzie, fragrance coordinator, Alberto-Culver. Product profiles are given to a core list of fragrance suppliers to challenge them to submit compatible fragrances that demonstrate creativity and recognize trends in the marketplace. 

Salon Brands Dare to Be Adventurous
Salon and boutique spa products often offer more adventurous fragrance statements—utilizing botanicals, exotic plants, tropical fruits blended with musks, and florals that provide great residuals. A wafting exotic floral may enhance the whole salon experience, and there may be olfactory fatigue when an oft relied-upon fragrance is overused. Blends—such as sharp, fresh citrus notes with orange flower, rosemary and chamomile, honeyed pear and lemongrass—play a critical fragrance role in that they are, thus far, not overused; other examples include fruit and green apple notes, coconut notes with mango, a great deal of musk blended into the florals and citrus to provide great residuals. Fragrance trends will continue to drive the hair care market, with the segment’s emphasis on botanicals and natural ingredients providing brand stories of functionality and fragrance that enhance the entire sensory experience.

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