Bloggers’ Thumbs-Up: A Poor Predictor of Fragrance Success

This post is written in a half-serious way. It does not intend to offend anyone and those with faint hearts and sensitive souls should not proceed any further. All the brave ones, please enjoy and comment.

Conventional logic would make us believe that if experts and aficionados praise the qualities of a product, it undoubtedly i going to be a market success. This is rarely the case with fragrances however. Perfumes boasting top scores among bloggers often dismally fail in the marketplace. In a recent interview with Serguey Borisov, Pierre Guillaume attests to this: he says his best sellers usually don’t get much love in the fragrance community, while his “shelf-warmers” get all the rave in blogs and forums.

I believe the explanation of this “anomaly” is due to a misalignment between what bloggers seek in a perfume and what the average fragrance consumer does. The difference, as it is explained later, is quite natural and is propped by three pillars: purpose, knowledge and experience. The rest of this post explains what each one of these pillars are and why they render bloggers impotent fortune tellers of fragrance success in the mass market.

We seek the Holly Grail.

Purpose

Bloggers and average consumers have a quite different purpose for buying a fragrance. In fact, before even any buying occurs, they approach fragrances in very different ways.

The average consumer is generally looking for something that smells nice. The 20-something guy is looking for something fresh and clean he can wear to class – almost an extension of his shower (or a replacement of it as the situation requires). He may also be looking for something a little heavier to wear to the bar or club, something that would help him with the ladies. Therefore, rarely do men have more than 2 bottles on their shelves – one for daily wear and one for the evening.

women tend to be a little bit less utilitarian when it comes to fragrance

In the majority of cases these are the fragrance requirements of the average consumer. As you can tell, their approach to fragrance is very functional – they buy a fragrance to serve some utilitarian purpose.

I think it’s apt to say, women tend to be a little bit less utilitarian when it comes to fragrance. They do like more variety and factor in the emotional impact a fragrance has when they make a purchase. Even with the more sensual approach to scent, women stay closer to the utilitarian side of the utility-art continuum. In other words, they still mostly buy perfume because it makes them smell nice.

bloggers are not a bunch of weirdos who enjoy smelling their dirty socks

Bloggers approach fragrance in a completely different way. We seek the Holly Grail. We search the unique, extreme, odd scents. The smells of dirty armpits, smoke and semen, if done right, are applauded as great artistic expressions and beacons of fragrant revolution.

Bloggers approach fragrance from the extreme art side of the utility-art spectrum. We are not much different than the art critics lauding an incomprehensible lump of plaster some avant-garde sculptor created.

I must say here, bloggers are not a bunch of weirdos who enjoy smelling their dirty socks. The majority of fragrances they enjoy are very much polite and wearable, while still maintaining a unique facet. Take Green Irish Tweed, for example. It is one of the most loved scents on Basenotes. It cannot be any more mainstream, however, it is unique in its own way – from a historical perspective it is the forefather of the aquatics (it came before Cool Water by a couple of years). Its grey fruit note and the ambergris drydown that call for attention.

The more you know something, the more critical you become of it.

This leads us to the next pillar that props the difference between the highly popular among bloggers and the mass market:

Knowledge

The more you know something, the more critical you become of it. Perfume bloggers spend a significant portion of their time reading about and studying fragrances – compositions, structure, materials, artistic approach, etc. Armed with this knowledge it is almost impossible not to approach a fragrance in a more critical way. Here’s an example:

The average consumer would pick up a bottle of fragrance, smell it, spray it on, smell it again and say: “I like it, it smells nice, I’ll take it.”

A blogger, in contrast, would take a fragrance, spray it and analyze it: “it opens with citrus…a lemon…a lemon rind…zesty…there is some neroli too. It reminds me of X by Y. They totally ripped it off. I can’t believe it! And what’s that warm woody note creeping in? Amber maybe? Ambroxan? Synthetic musk…white musk. It dries down musky…how typical. They ripped off X and by using cheaper aromachemicals.”

 fragrance bloggers smell a lot of perfume.

I’m not saying all bloggers are over-analytical assholes but the temptation to over-analyze is always there. It is not much different than a civil engineer looking at a building and intuitively analyzing how it was built.

The point I am making is that a fragrance that gets slammed by bloggers for deficiencies or lack of creativity can do exceptionally well on the market.

Experience

Let me state the obvious: fragrance bloggers smell a lot of perfume. Many of them are so proficient with scents that you can hardly catch them off-guard with a fragrance that smells like nothing they’ve come across.

imagine the only coffee you have ever drunk is McDonald’s

In other words, fragrance bloggers may discount the qualities of a fragrance because they know of 10 others that smell the same only better.  If your experience with summer scents is limited only to Issey Miyake and Armani, you probably would consider this to be the standard of a good summer fragrance. A perfume blogger, however, may gawk at those because they also know of tons of other superior summer scents.

Think of it another way: imagine the only coffee you have ever drunk is McDonald’s. Since you haven’t drunk any other coffee for you, this is the gold standard. Any other coffee you drink, you will compare to McDonald’s. Then, one day you try Starbucks and you love it. Because it is better you automatically set it as your new gold standard. Now you compare all coffee to Starbucks.

often artistic work does not get its due recognition

It’s the same with fragrances: if you only know Acqua di Gio, any fragrance on par with it will be a good fragrance. Once you experience something better, it will become the new gold standard for fragrances in that category.

To sum it all up, fragrance bloggers think quite differently about scent than the average fragrance consumer. They have more sophisticated taste and approach scent in a unique way. Therefore, what they consider a worthy scent may not prove its worth in the marketplace. Perfumery is not much different than other arts – often artistic work does not get its due recognition until several decades after its creation and some pieces of art never get fully appreciated by the mass public. It takes some time and maturity to appreciate the full effect of some art pieces and some perfumes are not that different.

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5 thoughts on “Bloggers’ Thumbs-Up: A Poor Predictor of Fragrance Success

  1. What a great piece… I love it. Very true, us bloggers do have a different sensibility which I do believe is neither wrong nor right. Hell, if I was 14 years old today, I’d be spraying myself with Axe and choking those around me too 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Scented Hound. There is definitely nothing wrong with bloggers’ sensibilities. They are a natural development of having more intimate knowledge and experience with scent.

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  2. Great piece. I was thinking similar thoughts. There is definitely a Perfumista conversation and a mainstream buying market. I do think though that many perfumes are also sold via reading about them on the blogging websites. Every year the niche buying public grows and therefore the interest in what the Perfumistas write about.

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  3. Dearest Bound
    Interesting piece.
    Of course there are other factors at work not least marketing, distribution and endorsement.
    More ‘challenging’ perfumes may not be selected for such promotion and this might be part iof the reason they don’t reach a wider audience…
    Interestingly, many bloggers are fulsome in their admiration for classic, big sellers from the past – myself included – was mainstream perfume more adventurous then? Does only the best survive?
    Much to muse on.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

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  4. Perfumed Dandy,

    You raise a good question: “was mainstream perfume more adventurous then?”
    I think before 1990’s, that is before the “democratization” of luxury, perfumers had more freedom to be adventurous. Since then creativity and sense for olfactory adventure has been hampered by more stringent IFRA regulations and accountants. By accountants I really mean corporations who put profit before art. Running a profitable business is definitely important but doing so at the expense of the art of perfumery…that’s just sad.

    Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

    Like

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