NEW YORK — In today’s overcrowded, chaotic and hyperventilating marketplace, launching even a single fragrance can be daunting. But to create multiple scents — each fitting the distinct personality of a particular brand —...
NEW YORK — In today’s overcrowded, chaotic and hyperventilating marketplace, launching even a single fragrance can be daunting. But to create multiple scents — each fitting the distinct personality of a particular brand — demands no small amount of mental dexterity.
And there are a number of creative product development chiefs doing that every day. Considering the retail market’s manic appetite for product newness, the question arises as to how this creative momentum can be sustained, season after season.
That’s the job of fragrance industry veteran Michael Förster as senior vice president of central marketing for Cosmopolitan Cosmetics, overseeing the Escada, Montblanc, Dunhill, Ghost, Ellen Tracy, Anna Sui and Charles Jordan fragrance brands — or, in his words, “developing from nothing a finished product, including advertising and marketing.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Förster, who is best-known for launching Davidoff Cool Water, is upholding the individual identities of the brands he oversees — and differentiating specific scents under each of those brands.
The key, he said during a recent interview, is maintaining a brand’s core values. “The moment we have a license, we make a fragrance that reflects the world of that brand,” he said, citing Ghost as an example. The “unique” name and fabrics used by the fashion brand translated into a fragrance that reflects both visual and olfactory “sheerness,” according to Förster. And, “there are different expressions of these core values,” Förster said of creating individual scents within a brand. For instance, visuals for Ghost’s first fragrance show a woman in nature, reflecting an element of “well-being,” while visuals for Ghost’s Deep Night fragrance show a night scene, which reflects “seduction,” he said.
Rather than relying solely on trends — considering it can take 18 months to get a scent from the drawing board to the counter, which is plenty of time for a trend to go stale — much of Förster’s creative inspiration is based on what he calls life’s “universal aspects.” These include “seduction, sex, self-fulfillment,” or living a life that makes one happy; “recognition,” or attracting the attention of others, and, naturally enough, “water.” Still, referring to Escada’s fashion fragrances — seasonal scents that accompany apparel collections from the house — Förster acknowledged there are opportunities for “quick, limited editions and one-shots.”Because the objective of achieving product longevity for a new fragrance is “important to the bottom line [and] it usually takes a while to break even,” Förster suggested trying to recognize the limitations of traditional consumer research. Asserting that consumers tend to vote or opt for a new submission that reminds them of something familiar, perpetuating “me-too products,” he said, “We don’t blindly believe these tools.” He pointed to Anna Sui’s fragrances — in line with the designer’s “playful” spirit — as examples of products “that are not me-too.”
“We look for ways to make a product creative,” he continued, “and if we see something that works, we give it full support.”
Quicker launch timetables have doubled the number of annual launches for some houses, Förster contended, increasing cost pressures. To find a balance, he has turned to improved technological processes and less expensive components. The risk, of course, is a tarnished image. “We have to think in a lower cost frame these days [and] the real art is making a great-looking design that is not expensive,” he said. But, “You can be so cost-effective it looks really cheap. That’s not what we want.”
Förster, 44, began his career at Lancaster Group, spending 13 years in different creative and marketing roles until leaving his post as executive vice president of marketing worldwide in 1996 to begin his own firm. Soon thereafter, he began consulting with Cosmopolitan Cosmetics — where he eventually joined full-time. Five years ago, Wella chairman Heiner Guertler charged him with starting a New York-based worldwide marketing center for the company’s Cosmopolitan Cosmetics business unit.
“A key question of the future” Förster observed, is oversaturation of “newness.” He added, “I’m not sure if anyone has a real answer for this. But if our failure rate is less than the average, we’ll be more successful than our competitors. That’s how we increase our market share and that has been the case.”
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