The Math on Celebrity Fragrance: Do They Still Add Up?

This article originally ran in the Industry section of the February 2012 issue of Perfumer & Flavorist magazine. All rights reserved.)

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Jennifer Lopez’s Glow (Coty), the success of which helped inspire a six-fold increase in celebrity scent launches over the last decade—to mixed results. Today, five of the top 10 fragrances in the United States are celebrity branded or endorsed, according to Karen Grant (NPD), the opening speaker for The Fragrance Foundation’s recent “Celebrity Fragrance Balance Sheet” event in New York. And so, wondered moderator Rochelle Bloom (The Fragrance Foundation), is it clear that the industry is getting a return on its investment?

The minus side: The number of celebrity scent launches outpaces those of conventional brands by a factor of nine. Inevitably, said Grant, this has led to clutter and diminishing returns overall. In 2011, celebrity scent sales grew by 5%, while the whole market was up by 10%. Celebrity scents now make just 30% what they did in 2002 and 55% what they made in 2008.

The plus side: Since 2002 celebrity fragrances have brought in $1.3 billion in sales, said Grant. And the hits have kept on coming. In 2011 prestige fragrance sales were boosted by Justin Bieber’s Someday (Give Back Brands) and Taylor Swift’s Wonderstruck (Elizabeth Arden), while the original celebrity blockbuster, Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds (Elizabeth Arden), remained the overall top mass fragrance.

The conclusion: Celebrity fragrances add up—if handled properly.

The various shapes of celebrity partnerships: When it was launched in 1999, J’Adore (Christian Dior) grew to post annual sales of $40 million, explained Terry Darland (Parfums Christian Dior). Over time, sales fell to $20 million. When actress Charlize Theron became the celebrity face of the scent, sales recovered to $35 million. Recent marketing for J’Adore have supplemented Theron’s image with those of icons such as Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly. The lesson: a celebrity can shore up sales, but not necessarily return them to original luster.

Not all celebrity fragrance customers are alike and each must be understood, said Linda Levy (Macy’s). For instance, 95% of Someday customers did not buy Wonderstruck and vice versa. Ron Rolleston (Elizabeth Arden) agreed, saying that understanding fan bases and audience relationships is crucial.

“This is a nurturing process,” said Theo Spilka (Firmenich), noting that it is crucial to craft sense of ownership between celebrity and their scent brand in order to encourage proactive promotion. He explained that celebrity deals are changing, whether they are royalty deals, charitable giving, retailer exclusives or some other new hybrid. In all cases, celebrities must be educated from creation to launch. Rolleston noted that celebrities are excited by expertise of perfumers and so are not averse to this education. Classically, he said, Liz Taylor loved working with perfumer Claude Dir.

Any marketing deal should include a specific number of days for celebrity public relations, said Rolleston. Media appearances must be part of any fragrance marketing plan. Levy concluded that “real partnerships with celebrities will create longevity.” The ideal launch, she said, will take into account what the celebrity is willing to do to support the launch over at least a year. Hit-and-run celebrities will not be successful, said Levy, highlighting her formula for success: authenticity + commitment + dollars.

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