Has celebrity perfume had its heyday?

14th July, 2016

Britney Spears is not investing in a new world tour, a new album or a music video, she just launched yet another fragrance called Private Show. This time the singer was inspired by the electric energy that she feels on stage while performing. “I wanted my fans to have an uplifting, sexy scent that empowers them to achieve their dreams,” said Spears in the press release. With her 20th scent to date the question arises; will her millions of fans still line up in front of the drugstore to get a whiff of Britney?

Britney's Private Show

Smells like trouble

Slap a famous name on a fragrance and there you have it, a product that scoops millions. Ever since Givenchy created his first perfume L’Interdit for Audrey Hepburn in 1957, the formula of selling celebrity fragrances worked well. Fans from all over the globe were willing to wait in line for hours to ensure that they would go home with a piece of their idol. But those days seem long gone. In 2013 Euromonitor reported that the sales of celebrity fragrances dropped with 2 %. Three years later, in 2016, there hardly seems to be any improvement. Take Coty, who creates scents for David Beckham, Jennifer Lopez and Katy Perry. They fell four percent this year, marking the seventh straight quarterly decline in their fragrance sales. Bart Becht, chairman and interim chief executive officer of Coty Inc. told WWD that “celebrity fragrance is largely a phenomenon that is dying out.” A statement which Elizabeth Arden (Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj and Britney Spears) would probably agree with. In their annual report of 2015 the company concluded that their net sales decreased by 16,6% as well as an overall decline in sales of celebrity products and certain heritage fragrances.

Arden's Nicki MInaj and Justin Bieber

Counting stars

So what actually keeps fans from buying the latest Bieber or Britney juice? According to the Euromonitor report of 2013, “celebrity fragrances have slowly been losing popularity, as tweens and teens continue to like celebrity scents, but have less disposable income to spend on fragrances, as unemployment remains high amongst the youth population. Fragrances also increasingly compete with other purchases, such as smartphones and apps.” Tough conclusions by Euromonitor but it certainly opened the eyes of companies like Coty and Elizabeth Arden. Since 2013, Coty has been spending billions in order to expand its beauty and skincare business to reduce their reliance on fragrance. Elizabeth Arden adopted a new go-to-market strategy where they repositioned their celebrity brands to lower retail price points and placed greater emphasis on body sprays for more entry-level price points. Although it might be early to draw conclusions, their new strategies haven’t paid off yet.

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According to Pia Long, who gives marketing and strategy advice to fragrance businesses and who is one half of the Love to Smell YouTube channel, there is a general trend going on where the consumer is moving away from celebrity scents. “Celebrity scent users have moved along to other products and have simply got bored of perfume as they see it; never evolving away from a casual scent wearer and have just replaced their celeb scent with something else. No other scent category is as easy to replace with alternatives.” She also mentions that the perfume-buying public is showing more interest for the niche fragrances on the market. A market that, according to Euromonitor, is heavily crowded, even more than the celebrity category. Think of Jenny from the block who launched 28 perfumes, Queen B. who brought 13 scents on the market and Paris Hilton who has 21 fragrances to her name. With such a big fragrance range, even the biggest Jennifer Lopez fan might reconsider buying the 29th Lopez juice.

Another disadvantage that these odors have, let’s say compared to scents from people in the fashion industry (Marc Jacobs, Giorgio Armani, Karl Lagerfeld), is that there is hardly any link between the person and the fragrance. “What does a pop personality like Bieber know about the old art of perfumery?” concluded Phil Wahba in his article for Fortune. Fashion designers are more aware of what is needed on the current fashion, accessories and cosmetics market, which makes it more obvious for them to launch a new fragrance.

Licensing stars for a scent also seems to be a big business risk as companies have little control over their image and career paths. Elizabeth Arden stated in their 2015 annual report that the demand for the product is, to some extent, dependent on the celebrity’s reputation. “The celebrity fragrance category or a particular celebrity ceases to be appealing to consumers or a celebrity’s reputation is adversely affected, sales of the related products and the value of the brands can decrease materially. In addition, under certain circumstances, lower net sales may shorten the duration of the applicable license agreement.” Coty too, told its investors that it can’t guarantee that celebrity licensors will maintain their status with consumers.

One could then conclude that in our current market stardom alone is not enough to clear the shelves. So why do companies still launch new celebrity fragrances? “They still represent an easy way to monetise a brand or enhance a known name,” explains Pia Long. “I don't see why businesses wouldn't want to keep doing this for the foreseeable future. The idea of having a ready-made icon to pin your product on is attractive - so many perfumes get lost in the avalanche of new launches and being able to associate your product with an existing glowing billboard is still an easy way to get noticed.” Donald J. Loftus, president of Parlux Inc. and executive vice president of Perfumania Inc., also sees the advantages of launching a celebrity scent. He told Women’s Wear Daily that the poor sales figures are not always to blame on the consumer but on the stores. “We had Rihanna’s Rogue and we were ranking in the top 15 in 50 major stores and then retailers decided they didn’t want to be in the celebrity business anymore,” Loftus said. He added that part of the problem is that stores never got the hang of selling to a fifteen to twenty-two year old customer.

Rihanna's Rogue

A bright future?

In attempt to try and boost sales of the celebrity eau de parfums, both Elizabeth Arden and Coty lowered their price point and are trying to reach out to new markets. “We have begun using joint ventures in certain markets to better accelerate the growth of our fragrance portfolio internationally,” said Elizabeth Arden, who operates in approximately 120 countries, in their annual report. Frederic Pignault, vice president of sales of prestige fragrances at International Flavors & Fragrances, told WWD that he is also positive about introducing celebrity odors to new markets. “There is a geographic opportunity to make celebrity fragrance locally relevant in selected emerging markets, such as India and Brazil.”

But hasn’t celebrity perfume just had its heyday? Fragrance companies can’t deny that today’s consumer is looking for a more unique, bespoke type of odor. The big department stores, small boutiques, online shops, they all focus on offering a good selection of independent perfumes. Pia Long observes that the hunger for something more unique will increase in the future when the market diversifies. “What businesses who are relying on celebrity products should now be thinking about is a careful balance between profit, perfume, story and choice of celebrity - what will appeal to the target demographic? What will excite them and reward their purchase rather than leave them feeling disappointed and cynical? The recent downward trend is an early warning sign not to be complacent about the process and to invest in good juice, good market research and good storytelling.” Thus Long believes that celebrity perfume as we know it now might have had its heyday, but she doesn’t see them going away just yet. Until then, chances are that Britney’s millions of fans will be waiting in line for her fragrance Private Show, one more time.

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About the author: Marloes Hagenaars

Marloes Hagenaars comes from the very small town Langeraar in the Netherlands. Her interest in fashion started growing when she did her Bachelor Journalism in Utrecht and later did a Masters in Fashion Journalism at the London College of Fashion. During her Masters she started Freya Magazine (freyamag.com), a fashion magazine that explores current issues through fashion. Currently she is working as an editor for Harper’s Bazaar Netherlands. Her favourite perfume is L'Air du Desert Marocain by Andy Tauer

Website: http://www.freyamag.com


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      • xoxoMyke | 15th July 2016 04:51

        I'm glad this is happening. There are very few good celebrity scents.

        I hope flankers are next!

      • hednic | 15th July 2016 04:52

        To answer the thread question - I sure hope so!

      • Ken_Russell | 15th July 2016 15:08

        Enjoyed reading this- while not all celebrity fragrances are automatically bad from the very start, it were preferable if at the very least the slightly more complex, crafty and off-beat celebrity fragrances (if is not too much of a paradox lasted and remained/became more easily available

      • David Ruskin | 15th July 2016 17:12

        So, if I read this correctly, Paris Hilton, Beyonce, Britney, David Beckham and Jennifer Lopez are figureheads for 103 fragrances. Dear god.

      • Carolyn M | 15th July 2016 18:01

        I endorse your hope that flankers are next - it seems an easy but lazy way for companies to foist something else on the general public.

      • Carolyn M | 15th July 2016 18:02

        Oh I did chuckle at your comment, which seems to adopt the same tone I used the other day when I commented on Now Smell This's piece on the new Burberry Brit campaign!

      • Pauer_Haus | 15th July 2016 21:33

        As regards the music industry, it would not surprise me to learn that the viability of merchandising in general as a primary revenue stream (and make no mistake, up until recently merchandising figured heavily into the business models of most successful acts) is waning - the internet has undercut much of the "buy-in" costs for fandom and it's simply no longer necessary to wait in line, cash in hand, to go home with a "piece" of your idol. I also get the sense that the available pool of celebrities has shrunk - at least, celebrities with the kind of reach and visibility necessary to create a successful fragrance brand.

        Interestingly, this article also notes EA's many "heritage" fragrance brands as declining in sales as well. Here at BN we already know that it's a bad time to be getting into the oldies if you're not buying vintage, but this news really doesn't bode well for the continued availability of the classics.

      • Jovejove123 | 16th July 2016 06:22

        I wouldn't say they've had their heyday as so much because of consumer purposes as much as the associates that work in the fragrances. Working in the fragrance industry for 7 years now, I've gone through working in 3 major retailers here in Canada, from lower middle class to luxury stores. It depends significantly on the sales associates. If you go to a department store, most celebrity fragrances are not present, if at all there. If they are there, they normally are sectioned off in a complete random area in the store, far away from the beauty department. When it comes to fragrances, an associate would rather sell you an Armani Privé at $185-$900, over a celebrity fragrance that's anywhere between $7-$60. Most beauty associates are commission based, as well as target based. Focusing on such a minor sale and a fragrance that has no backbone for long term success, just doesn't make sense. Of course if someone comes in specifically looking for a certain fragrance, no associate with respect will sway the customer to buy something else, but it just doesn't make sense to bother focusing on them anymore. The last major launches that I can remember with a lot of support was Lady Gaga's first fragrance and Madonna's first fragrance, both of which were flops due to their scent; they were definitely not buy back scents. As a retailer, you'd also want your staff to focus on higher ticketed items, produce growth in sales to make the company money, and the associate wants to cover their butt to make the quota as well as cash in on commission. People still search for scents like Elizabeth Taylor, Mariah Carey, Sarah Jessica Parker, but those are more for 25+. Any celeb fragrance that's meant to target under 25 year olds, they will buy what's popular in the moment and not go back to it. I get a lot of younger consumers who'll come in looking for fragrances that are on average $100-200 in value, and they do buy them! I don't know about the USA or other markets, but in Canada, the youth are aware of fragrance designer brands and even niche lines. Only in farther suburban towns would celeb fragrances be more popular due to lack of city pop culture trends.

      • mkpunk | 7th September 2016 04:46

        I think it has hit its heights due to the costs to get the deal, but there are a number I do like. Michael Jordan was my second fragrance and while it is pretty much alcohol, it is a pretty nice sporty scent. My next one was Michael Jordan 23 which is basically a shorter lasting sporty drug store Acqua di Gio scent. Then I tried Jay Z Gold and OH MY GOD, such a great unique versatile scent that is under-appreciated. I will say you are over-paying at Macy's original pricing BUT if you pay $30-45 for the 3oz/90ml, you are in for a treat. The blueberry note is so different than anything I've smelt. Then you have my latest celebrity purchases, Antonio Banderas with King of Seduction and King of Seduction Absolute which were both Invictus style scents though in different ways. King of Seduction is light and playful with pineapple while King of Seduction Absolute is heavy on the seas scent and can be used as a night scent or in fall.