By  on September 12, 2008

If the HBA Global Expo is about finding solutions, Bath & Body Works’ Camille McDonald made good on that premise by issuing a rallying cry to reinvigorate the fragrance business.

Just before stepping onto the stage Wednesday morning, McDonald, who is president of brand development and merchandising for BBW, said, “I’m going to be provocative.”

From the state of things, tough talk followed by bold action is what’s required to cure the industry’s ailments. The story is long-running and all too familiar. For the first half of the year, sales of prestige fragrances dipped 3 percent to $1 billion, versus the year-ago period, according to The NPD Group.

McDonald’s aim, she said, was to stimulate a reexamination of “how we think and behave in the fragrance industry. Despite lots of hard work, high spending and loud noise, the needle on growth for the fragrance industry really hasn’t moved more than a couple of points up or down in years,” said McDonald. Quoting her late, Red Sox-loyal father, she said, “When you are not winning the game, change the rule book. Don’t just keep sending in new pitchers.”

Breaking from the same tired ideas and strategies requires a three-pronged strategy of tangibility, accessibility and the thrill of the hunt, she said.

To make fragrance entries more tangible to consumers, McDonald suggested marketers position and-or name scents for their olfactive concept. “This would permit less dependency on endorsers and signatures, though they can still be in the mix, even as just an insurance policy.”

She noted that 75 percent of the fragrance industry’s current sales volume comes from designer and celebrity brands. “Those are brands with a signature on them other than the customers’. And of these, only a few actually communicate what the fragrance actually smells like,” she said, declaring later, “What the fragrance smells like matters and it matters first.” Trumpeting a fragrance’s olfactive identity, in McDonald’s view, allows the customer to form her own emotional connection with the scent, and allows marketers to introduce flankers that strengthen that link.

To make fragrance more accessible, McDonald, a 27-year beauty executive, said firms can appeal to consumers’ infatuation with instant global access. Shoppers’ searches on the Web make them curious about ingredients (particularly as the natural products movement gains strength) and about technologies, said McDonald. Employing and then educating consumers about new delivery systems or advancements, like time-release technology, may succeed in getting shoppers’ attention in a cluttered category.

Turning to retail, McDonald said fostering the idea of “thrill of the hunt” requires merchants to curate, rather than dictate. She offered, “How about a shopping experience that frames choices around experiences in her life,” or her fragrance memories. “What about embedding a blog in the store for shoppers to rant and rave and provide instant feedback?” she asked. Or what if retailers leveraged their fragrance consultants, allowing shoppers to make appointments with them to find their signature scents, she suggested.

She cited a number of companies that have managed to tear up the rule book and excite change, including the boudoir concept housed in Annick Goutal’s Paris store and Aerin Lauder’s Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, a scent based on memories of her grandmother, Estée.

“It’s more extreme than just listening to the consumer,” said McDonald. “It involves input from her. She’s the maestro.”

The previous morning, dermatologist Nicholas Perricone also prompted HBA attendees to sit up and take note. During his keynote address, he declared that advances in science, namely infrared light technology, may extend a person’s life span by 20 years, which produced an audible gasp from the audience.

Perricone cited a study that found infrared light helmets fastened on the heads of mice helped reverse their memory loss by stimulating brain cells. The dermatologist donned his own infrared light helmet for two weeks, which he reported sharpened his memory, as well.

Should light one day succeed in treating age-related diseases, like dementia, it could also ameliorate the outward signs of aging, including wrinkles, suggested Perricone. After all, Perricone, who believes cellular inflammation is the underlying cause of wrinkles, declared Tuesday, “Aging is a disease.”

Perricone predicted, “One day you’ll walk into a light box for about six to 10 minutes a day, and you will see your youth come back to you.”

In the meantime, the dermatologist — who favors salmon, berries and nuts for breakfast over a bagel — advises a prescription of a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods (colorful fruits and vegetables, for instance), dietary supplements, such as the antioxidant alpha lipoic acid, and topical skin care treatments. His namesake cosmeceutical line, Perricone MD Cosmeceuticals, includes supplements and topicals.

He declared, “Skin is a perfect barometer of a person’s health.” Following his speech, when asked what he recommends to stave off the signs of aging in place of Botox and lasers — which he eschews — he said, “Get yourself healthy, and then everything else will follow.”

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