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Master Charge

NEW YORK -- A novel idea when Calvin Klein Cosmetics launched Obsession and Obsession for Men in the mid-Eighties, master brands have become a habit in the fragrance industry. Now executives are wondering whether it's a healthy habit.


NEW YORK — A novel idea when Calvin Klein Cosmetics launched Obsession and Obsession for Men in the mid-Eighties, master brands have become a habit in the fragrance industry. Now executives are wondering whether it’s a healthy habit.

“There have been more disappointments than there have been successes,” said Allen Burke, divisional merchandise manager for cosmetics at Dayton’s, Hudson’s & Marshall Field’s, Minneapolis. “The success of Calvin Klein has led a lot of people to try to duplicate it.”

Ann Gottlieb, a fragrance consultant, said too many cosmetics companies have been trying to market master brands without laying secure foundations, most importantly a name and a concept that are meaningful to women and men.

Some manufacturers are beginning to hesitate about joining the parade. Liz Claiborne, for example, does not have a Vivid for Men in the works, according to Art Spiro, vice president of marketing. And although David Horner, president of Halston Borghese North America, plans to launch Catalyst for Men this spring, he has balked at doing a men’s version of Il Bacio, which is Italian for “the kiss.”

Last year, 11 of the 21 men’s fragrance introductions were companions to women’s lines or other men’s lines. Industry analyst Allan J. Mottus, who estimates that master brands account for as much as 15 percent of the $3.2 billion women’s fragrance market, or $480 million, and 35 percent of the $1 billion men’s market, or $350 million, said the list of the six top-selling women’s fragrances includes three master brands: Eternity and Escape, both from Calvin Klein, and Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds.

Despite its continued popularity, master branding is not always a viable strategy. Retailers’ warnings that subsequent launches cannot simply coast on the record of the original scent have not deterred a slew of Calvin Klein copycats.

Among the companion brands that failed to meet expectations, retailers said, are both the men’s and women’s versions of Bijan’s DNA, Elizabeth Taylor’s Passion for Men, Fred Hayman’s 273 for Men, Giorgio Beverly Hills for Men and Red for Men and Perry Ellis for Women, which launched in 1985 with Perry Ellis for Men and has been phased out.

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“I don’t think anyone paid any attention to the concept until Calvin Klein came along and mastered the master brand,” said Rita Burke, senior vice president and divisional merchandise manager for cosmetics at Macy’s East.

Too often, master brands suffer from what one executive described as “an economy of creativity,” a criticism similar to that aimed at movie sequels, which tend to rely on a formula rather than an original idea. To succeed, each product must have the same energy in development and the same spending behind it.

“The only asset you take is a little recognition,” said Allen Burke. “If the product itself does not stand on its own, it’s not going to work.”

Steve Bock, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of cosmetics and fragrance at Saks Fifth Avenue, emphasized that the “name alone doesn’t guarantee” a hit. Bock said companion brands work only if “the package is complete.”

Bock pointed to Escada Pour Homme as an example of a fragrance that has not relied only on name recognition.

“The men’s fragrance is a fabulous fragrance that absolutely can stand on its own,” he said.

The spotty record of master brands hasn’t stopped many fragrance manufacturers from planning the second launch even while developing the first. Last year, there were Calvin Klein’s Escape for Men and Elizabeth Taylor’s Fragrant Jewels, both sequels to 1991 mega-launches. Giorgio Beverly Hills’ Wings and 360° by Perry Ellis are two 1993 women’s scents set to gain male companions this year, and a men’s version of Benetton’s Tribu is slated for 1995. Ralph Lauren Fragrances is also introducing Polo Sport, the third in the Polo series.

Fragrance executives say they continue to produce master brands for three basic reasons:

  • Sequels enjoy ready-made audiences in the form of customers, mainly women, who have bought the original product.
  • The second launch of the pair — generally the men’s scent — can help ignite sales of the women’s fragrance, as well.
  • By getting more mileage out of advertising and saving the exorbitant cost of trademarking new names, companion brands are less expensive to develop.

Although the percentage of men’s fragrance purchased by women has declined in recent years, industry executives say women still account for more than half of all men’s scent sales. Capitalizing on that crossover, master brands have emerged as one of the few means of cracking the often quirky men’s market.

“You get an immediate response from the consumer,” said Jack Wiswall, senior vice president and general manager of the Ralph Lauren Fragrance division of Cosmair.

With so many launches hitting the fragrance bar each year, a recognizable brand name can bulldoze its way through the clutter of competition.

“What we really do is build awareness of the second brand long before it’s ever available,” said Kim Delsing, president of Calvin Klein Cosmetics. “Obsession for women really pre-sold the men’s brand. We have customers now who swore they were using Escape for Men a year before it was on the market.”

As the increasing number of fragrance launches has shortened the average lifespan of a scent, a second launch of a master brand can serve to refocus attention on the first and prolong its life.

“When the men’s brand is launched, it lends energy to the women’s brand,” says Marty Richner, corporate regional area manager for cosmetics for Mercantile Stores.

Fragrant Jewels, for example, drew mixed reviews itself but appears to have sparked sales of White Diamonds during the holiday season. In the case of Ralph Lauren’s Safari, generally considered a leading master brand, the 1990 women’s scent did not take off until after the blockbuster Safari for Men hit the market two years later.

Aramis, one of the few companies to attempt the master brand strategy in reverse by launching a women’s fragrance after the men’s, experienced a 13 to 20 percent surge in sales of its eight-year-old Tuscany last year following the launch of Tuscany Per Donna.

“It’s all really been a feed-off from the women’s brand,” said Pamela Baxter, vice president of marketing at Aramis.

The third factor behind the rise of master brands is the economic advantage. Since it makes use of a name already owned by the manufacturer, the companion brand eliminates the cost of a second name search and registration and, more daunting, creating brand awareness.

Chanel is the latest company to announce plans for a sequel scent, and executives fully admitted their intention to ride the brand-awareness coattails of the first. Chanel will spend $5 million to advertise Egoiste Platinum — $4 million less than the company reportedly spent on the 1991 launch of the ill-fated Egoiste.

But many industry executives warn that a company cannot skimp on spending for the sequel.

“That’s called milking a brand, not building a master brand,” said one executive.

Many companies can also do at least some joint advertising or in-store promotions. Calvin Klein’s Escape and Escape for Men commercials were shot at the same time and are virtually indistinguishable, making them cost-efficient in terms of both economy and image.

Even when the campaigns are separate, manufacturers say, they serve to reinforce the image of the companion fragrance as well.

“They’re trying to get their money back on their advertising,” Mottus said. “One rides the piggy back.”

“It’s so expensive to try to cut through the clutter,” said Linda LoRe, president and chief executive officer of Giorgio Beverly Hills. “If you’ve already spent x, y and z building a brand, this is a natural extension.”

Having not fared well with two previous shots at the men’s market, LoRe said, Giorgio from the beginning considered how Wings’ name, concept and bottle would work in both the women’s and the men’s market, rather than starting development of the men’s scent after finishing the women’s. LoRe added the marketing strategies behind the two Wings scents “will be more closely related.”

For smaller fragrance houses, the savings aspect of master brands can play a key role in plotting strategy.

Joshua Smirin, president of Parfums Boucheron, said the process of registering a name costs about $250,000, or $5,000 in each of 50-plus countries where the company does business. The cost escalates when litigation is involved.

“To register today has become a nightmare,” Smirin said. “If we can use the same name on two fragrances, we’ll use it.”

Boucheron, which has a women’s and a men’s eponymous fragrance that retailers commonly point to as a success story, has been at work for four years on a second women’s scent, Smirin said. It is expected to be launched in Europe and the U.S. next fall.

“Even before we began to design the fragrance and the bottle, we started choosing a name,” Smirin said. The company has narrowed the list of names to eight, he said, about half of which are gender-neutral.

For Halston Borghese’s Horner, the expense of finding a name “is not nearly as bad as the time constraint.” Since the company had wanted to develop a new Halston women’s fragrance quickly and since it already owned the name, Horner went with Catalyst for the 1993 launch. The name and concept, he said, will work at the men’s counter as well.

During development of the company’s Il Bacio launch for its Princess Marcella Borghese division, though, Horner said his only concern was making a viable women’s scent.

As for Borghese’s first men’s fragrance in more than 20 years, slated to be launched in the fall, Horner said, “I don’t think men would want a fragrance called The Kiss.”