Perfume Flankers and Why They Make a Good Business Sense

Armani Code Side
Armani Code Side (Photo credit: MonkHie)

After perfume reformulations, releasing flankers gets the most negative criticism in the fragrance community.  There are usually good reasons for bad mouthing flankers: they are rarely better than the original, they show a lack of creativity and are a lazy way to boost sales.  From a business point of view, however, flankers are a great product extension strategy.  Here are four reasons why companies release flankers and why they make a good business sense.

Before diving any deeper into flanker though, a quick clarification on what a flanker is: A flanker is a re-release of a popular fragrance with a slight modification. A flanker can be a lighter or a heavier version of the original or it could feature other notes (e.g. oud, leather, etc.).  

1. Building on a Successful Formula

Creating a new fragrance is a huge gamble.  Fragrance companies never know for sure whether a new release will be a boom or a bust.  Even though they spend millions of dollars on focus groups and market research the risk that a fragrance may be a flop remains.  Companies take two general approaches to minimize this risk:

  1. Imitation: find out who are the best sellers in the last couple of years and release a fragrance similar to them.  This doesn’t even take that much work.  Everyone knows, for example, that Acqua di Gio has been a best-seller for at least 10 years in a row. So it makes sense that if you  just make another citrus-aquatic and you will likely have a best-seller on your hands.  We know in reality things rarely work out like this but, hey, it’s better than blindly stabbing in the dark.
  2. Flanker: if you already have a best-selling fragrance in your arsenal, then just tweak it a little and release it as a new scent building on the success of the previous one.  

Armani Code Sport

This begs the question if it’s so easy, why don’t companies release flankers of every single original perfume they’ve released.  The answer is that it doesn’t make sense to release a flanker of an average selling fragrance or a dud.  If the original failed to generate a lot of sales, what makes you think the flanker would do any better?  It is sort of like baking a bad cake and then adding whipped cream to make it different – it is still a bad cake.

The prerequisite for releasing a flanker is having a solid original fragrance that has reached a classic or a near-classic status.  Take Dior Homme for example.  It has been around for so many years and is one of Dior’s best-sellers.  Similarly Eau Sauvage is a great original to sprout flankers.  I cannot skip to mention Thierry Mugler‘s A*Man – the king of flankers boasting a line up of 11 fragrances according to Andrew Buck with

Eau Sauvage
The original Eau Sauvage

2. Expanding Market Reach

Having a best-seller fragrance is great but even best-sellers have a potential to capture an even larger market.  Flankers are a great way to grab more market share vertically and horizontally.

Imagine you are in charge of managing the Armani Code brand.  Through modern wizardry (a.k.a. market research) you know that Armani Code is very popular with consumers 25+.  You also know that because it is a somewhat sweet fragrance, it sells best in the colder months and that the majority of the consumer consider it an evening scent.

Armani Black Code
Armani Black Code

Since your job is to reach your sales growth target for the brand you know that you will have to do something different to boost sales during the lagging summer months and also to capture the demographic under 25.  To do this you decide to release Armani Code Sport.  You are banking on the already successful brand image and consumer recognition of the original, so this keeps your marketing costs low and you have greatly reduced the risk of the new release being a dud.

Flankers help with market share expansion in two ways – depth and breadth.  You expand your brand’s depth by getting your already loyal customers buy flankers to meet their needs not met by the original.  Armani Code works great as an evening fragrance, however, you may not want to wear it to the gym.  You would probably go with a lighter version of it and therefore you would reach for Armani Code Sport.  It also work the other way around – say you love Dior Homme but you want something with more presence as your formal evening fragrance – voila you have Dior Homme Intense.  Fragrance companies are aware that people have different fragrance needs for different situations of their lives. Releasing flankers to meet those needs expands the depth of their brand growth.

You can also grow the breadth of your market share and flankers are a great tool for that.  If lighter citrus-aquatic fragrances are more popular with the young crowd, you can easily release a sports flanker to capture some of the youth market.  If consumers start using Armani Code Sport in their teens, they will likely graduate to use the original once they hit their college years.  Without a flanker to lure them in, they would have never considered buying Armani Code.

3. Staying Relevant and Trendy

Fragrance counters are often similar to a Facebook feed – in order to stay on top and in front, you always have to post something new.  It is similar with fragrances – in order to get the best shelf space and to avoid falling into oblivion, fragrance companies have to release updates of their best-sellers almost every year.  Take Issey Miyake L’Eau d’Issey pour Homme for example.  Since the release of the original in 1994, Beaute Prestige International has released 18 flankers almost every year, sometimes twice a year.  Each one is slightly different but not different enough the justify its existence in the market.

The strategy behind such frequent releases is to ensure strong presence on the fragrance counter and also monetize on any recent fragrance trends.

Issey Miyaki L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme Sport
The latest flanker from the line L’Eau d’Issey pour Homme
Issey Miyake - The King of Flankers
L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme - original, released 1994
1. L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme Lummieres d'Issey - released 2002
2. L'Eau Bleue d'Issey pour Homme  - released 2004 
3. L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme Summer Glimmer - released 2004
4. L'Eau d'Ete 2005 l'Eau d'Issey Pour Homme - released 2005
5. L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme Summer 2006 - released 2006
6. L'Eau Bleu d'Issey Eau Fraiche - released 2006
7. L'Eau d'Issey Summer 2007 Homme - released 2007
8. L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme Intense - released 2007
9. L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme 2008 - released 2008
10. L'Eau d'Issey Eau D'Ete Summer Edition for Men - released 2009
11. L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme Edition Bois - released 2010
12. L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme Summer EdT - released 2010
13. L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme Noir Absolu - released 2010
14. L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme Gold Absolute  - released 2011
15. L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme d'Ete 2011 - released 2011 
16. L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme EdT l'Ete  - released 2012
17. L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme Sport - released 2012

In his article on the topic Andrew Buck suggests that flankers may be a result of a lack of creativity.  In a more positive light, however, flankers can be seen as a result of fragrance companies asking the question “what if”: what if we add an oud note, what if we make an intense version, what if we add more citrus on top.  Unfortunately, it is hard to maintain this stance of inquisitive creativity, especially when in the face of 18+ versions of L’Eau d’Issey and who-dares-to-count how many interpretations of CK One.  I think the more probable story is that companies release flankers as part of their strategy to maintain sales. Creative questioning of the status quo is rarely the case.

One of the many CK One Summer flankers
One of the many CK One Summer flankers
Top Flanker Offenders
Issey Miyake - released over 15 versions of the popular L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme.  Released a double-digit number of flankers L'eau d'Issey for women.
Calvin Klein - has been regularly releasing annual editions of CK One Summer since 2004.  As of 2012, the count is 8 flankers.  Time was too precious and life is too short to count the releases of CK IN2U and Eternity.  In case you wonder, we are talking double-digits.
Dior - the collections Dior Addict, Dior Homme and Eau Sauvage are made up of an original and numerous flankers. As of 2012, there are 8 flankers in the Dior Homme collection and 3 flankers in the Eau Sauvage collection.
Thierry Mugler - 10 flankers based on the A*Men original as of 2012 and 20 flankers based on Angel.

5 thoughts on “Perfume Flankers and Why They Make a Good Business Sense

  1. The actual numbers are even worse than I had thought. 20 flankers for Angel!!! *shudder* In Dante’s Inferno, Mugler should take at least 3 circles, while I think Armani deserves about 4.

    Kenzo is another culprit, you know, particularly if you consider the male/female versions of some his flankers. Like the L’Eau. (Notice how so many of these involve L’Eau variations?)

    And you’re only talking about high-end stuff. I’m sure we can count Britney Spears’ entire 11 fragrances as one big flanker collection. 😉


  2. You are right, Kafka, this is by far not all-inclusive. We could write a book listing all flankers ever released. All of Kenzos are pretty watery, almost non-scent scents. It’s like a perfume for people who don’t like perfume. The only exception I’ve smelled and used to own was Kenzo Power. It wasn’t bad – sweet spicy – but I wouldn’t repurchase.


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