PARIS — Does fame always smell sweet?

It’s a question up for debate as fragrance marketers rush to sign on celebrities.

Advertising and branding experts allow that famous faces offer a fast track to prestige, buzz and notoriety. Still, they warn, such benefits must be measured against the potential risk of brand confusion or, even worse, the damage a fall from grace can bring.

To be sure, there has been a tidal wave of celebrity-scent tie-ups. “We are ravenous in our appetite for news about celebrities and what they’re wearing now,” said Rita Clifton, chairman of London-based Interbrand Corp. “Beauty is no different; to a very great degree, it’s exaggerated.”

Since last fall, a number of famous faces have joined the fragrance fray. Several are working to develop their own scents, including Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, who is working to develop a line with the Estée Lauder Cos.; Britney Spears, who will launch Curious Britney Spears — her first fragrance under her Elizabeth Arden deal — next month, and Paris Hilton, she of many types of reality TV, who signed a deal with Parlux this spring to develop her own beauty products. Beyoncé Knowles, who is the face of Tommy Hilfiger Toiletries’ new scent, True Star, is also said to have had creative input into the fragrance’s creation.

These celebrity noses join Elizabeth Taylor, whose fragrances with Elizabeth Arden remain bestsellers after more than a decade on counter, and Jennifer Lopez, whose Glow by JLo and Still Jennifer Lopez scents from Lancaster have racked up hundreds of millions of dollars since their launches.

Other stars have recently signed deals to front fragrances, such as Scarlett Johansson’s February agreement to represent Calvin Klein’s Eternity Moment and Ashley Judd’s deal to front American Beauty, the new BeautyBank/Kohl’s brand. The second of the Kohl’s brands, Flirt, will be headlined by a different star each season. First up: songstress Michelle Branch. The prestige world’s galaxy of Hollywood stars also currently includes Liv Tyler, the face of Givenchy’s Very Irresistible Givenchy and Givenchy’s new makeup line, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, the face of Elizabeth Arden’s eponymous products. Not to be left out, pop stars-turned-perfumers Celine Dion and Jessica Simpson have done scents. Even French nightclub impresario Cathy Guetta recently joined the fragrance race.And the rush is unlikely to slow down anytime soon. Yet more deals are rumored to be in works, most notably two that are strongly rumored to be in play at the Lancaster Group: one project with Sarah Jessica Parker and a second with Kimora Lee Simmons.

“[It] reflects what’s going on in the world in terms of accessibility to celebrities in the media,” reasoned Jonathan Ford, creative partner at London-based consultancy Pearl Fisher. “We are swamped by celebrity images.”

So exactly what does all that star power bring to the perfumery business? On the upside, notoriety and an aspirational positioning for products, marketers say.

But they warn of the risk of overshadowing a brand or even tarnishing it if the star becomes embroiled in a scandal.

Such risks seem small concerns when a brand signs on a star with mass appeal. Not only does the brand acquire an instantly recognizable face for its advertising, it also profits from association with the individual even when they’re not officially on the job.

“[The] brand leverages publicity and press surrounding the celebrity over and above [its] advertising spend,” said Kate Waddell, senior consultant at London-based Brandsmiths. “Consumers buy into the celebrity’s aspirational look and lifestyle.”

“The choice of a strong personality can help reposition a brand, especially if the personality is the least expected one for the particular company,” added Dimitri Katsachnias, a founding partner of Garden and Partners, a brand consultancy based here. “The pluses can be important only if the chosen personality fits in with a very clear strategy and if the personality is only one of the many parameters of the strategy.”

Waddell agreed that celebrities are “already recognized for distinctive qualities and personality, which are then imbued on the brand.

“Models [except for supermodels] have beauty without personality,” she added. “Celebrities have both.”

Due to the fused relationship between brand and spokesperson, marketers emphasize the importance of making the right connection.

“In the long term, the celebrity has to connect [with the brand],” said Ford.

Interbrand’s Clifton suggested a simple test to determine if a celebrity spokesmodel is a good match for a brand. By placing a thumb over a logo in advertising, a consumer should still be able to tell which brand the ad is for. If the test fails, it could mean that the brand’s message is being overshadowed by fame. She cited Kate Moss’ collaboration with Rimmel London as a good match as Moss epitomizes London style, a key element of the brand’s concept.Because of the often fleeting nature of stardom, Waddell suggested beauty firms find a face with many facets.

“Often companies can strike on a celebrity who is more than ‘a face’ and select a representative who is instead synonymous with a greater promise — Isabella Rossellini’s [former] role with Lancôme is a perfect example of older, preserved beauty and agelessness, or Andie MacDowell’s role with L’Oréal in hair colorants,” she said.

“Different types of celebrities can give different specificities to a brand,” added Katsachnias. “Beauty or stardom is more linked to a mass-market brand. A strong personality or an ‘alternative’ personality is adding more value to a brand and is more linked to a selective brand.

“I, personally, believe a celebrity is interesting only if she is used in an unexpected way, if some ‘hidden’ aspect of her personality is put forward and if it is as flattering for herself to be part of the brand as it is for the brand to use her,” he continued.

Of course, such a symbiotic relationship can also work to the detriment of the brand if it changes its positioning in the marketplace, its star loses his or her glow, or worse, becomes embroiled in a scandal.

Among the minuses, Katsachnias said, “one can find a risk of a gradual repositioning of a brand — more mass market, more mainstream, less ‘real brand personality.’ And, of course, the risks that a personality might entail because of her personal actions and lifestyle.”

“It’s a problem if the celebrity isn’t getting great [press] or, for example, they were involved in drug abuse,” continued Ford. “That’s a risky relationship.”

Not that strong brands can’t weather the storm of controversy. Clifton pointed to Estée Lauder spokesmodel Elizabeth Hurley, who was dating actor Hugh Grant when he was found in a compromising situation with a prostitute. According to Clifton, the brand’s image was not tarnished by the association.

Indeed, scandal can work in the brand’s favor in some circumstances.

“[Take] David Beckham, who allegedly had an extramarital affair — that scandal has done his image good,” Ford said.— With contributions from Jennifer Weil in Paris and J.N. in New York

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