The Fragrance Foundation has got its groove back.
This story first appeared in the June 8, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The Fragrance Foundation Awards has once again been coated with glamour, and the organization is expanding membership and starting an online education platform, called The Fragrance Academy — aimed both at people in the perfume industry and consumers. Perhaps most novel, the foundation is launching proprietary research this fall, giving members further and more exclusive insights into the perfuming sector.
“We’re spending quite some money this year to put us in a much better place, and to make sure that our members really perceive the value,” said Jerry Vittoria, president of fragrances for North America at Firmenich, chairman of the foundation. “It’s going to be a game-changing year.”
Elizabeth Musmanno, president of the Fragrance Foundation, is leading a big change — expansion into less traditional scents — like the ones in detergent and other home products. “We’ve been thinking…of expanding our reach to consumer packaged goods,” Musmanno said. “We’ve set up a committee with Wal-Mart, [Procter & Gamble], the consumer package goods side of the fragrance houses, to discuss what that pillar, if you will, of The Fragrance Foundation, could look like — what’s of importance to them,” Musmanno said.
“We need to be about all scents….America is a land that loves scents, it loves fragrance. And we haven’t really spoken to them or represented them,” Vittoria said. “This is much more relevant than ever that we represent a wide audience, especially to [the] point with 50 percent of the American consumer base not entirely engaged with fragrances — so let’s get them in at the shampoos, let’s get them in at the shower gels, let’s get them in at the air fresheners and maybe they’ll slowly come toward the perfumes.”
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Another part of the group’s focus lies with developing its proprietary research. The results of that endeavor will be translated and presented at annual, first-quarter presentations for members, according to Musmanno. “They’ll hear things they can’t hear anywhere else,” she said. And, for the first time, Heart Magazines is the presenting sponsor for the awards.
Much of the credit for The Fragrance Foundation’s resurgence goes to Musmanno, Vittoria noted, particularly for bringing the esteem back to the awards in her four years as president. “When she took over, the awards had somewhat slumped — they started off years ago as a very glamorous event, and over the years perhaps we weren’t able to keep that going, and so people were not interested necessarily to associate their product with the awards,” he said. “By elevating the awards, by making it something really prestigious, quite a number of different companies have decided to once again tie that into their marketing campaigns.” One example is A Thousand Wishes, a Bath & Body Works fragrance that won The Fragrance Foundation Award for Consumer Choice, Popular, and decided to use that as part of its marketing campaign, according to Musmanno.
Education is also part of the plan, through the Fragrance Academy, an online certification program. “The course is now geared toward people who sell in the store to help them talk to [consumers] in a more informative way,” Musmanno said. “For some consumers who may be interested, we’re actually upgrading it now, thinking about our language, thinking about distilling it down to make it a little bit more palatable for all of us.”
“Language is a problem,” added Vittoria. “Many consumers just say when they like something, ‘it’s fresh and clean.’ But fresh and clean could be fabric conditioner or it could be anything, so we want to try to build that language. It’s difficult, it’s vocabulary that people don’t grow up with in this country…this academy is going to go a long way.”
Even with all those changes, The Fragrance Foundation’s mission has remained the same since it was founded in 1949 — serve its members as a source for innovation, expertise and education. It is, however, moving those goals a bit more into modern times.
One example is the group’s collaboration with Macy’s Flower Show in March — which it turned into a 10-day event at 600 Macy’s locations — with displays, store catalogues and appearances by perfumers, Musmanno said.
“What worked very well is the use of the perfumers, the artists, who were actually in the store but also had videos made to link them to some of the major launches in the spring,” Vittoria said. “People want to hear about the artist and their story and the inspiration behind the fragrance.”
Peeling back the curtain to reveal more about the fragrance industry to consumers is one leg of the foundation’s strategy. The organization is also working on the language barrier and trying to market fragrance in a different way, playing up the storytelling aspect.
“Traditionally, we’ve spoken about ingredients, and just think of it like a chef, or a great restaurant — if all they told you was ‘it’s a bit of cinnamon, and a bit of sugar and then I put a bit of spice’ — that’s not how you sell it,” Musmanno said. “You sell it through the wonderful picture of the roast chicken on the cover of Food & Wine.”
The consumer choice awards is one way The Fragrance Foundation aims to engage consumers. The idea is to have the award act as a catalyst for the consumer to know about the foundation, according to Musmanno, who has a clear end goal: “Really have The Fragrance Foundation mean something to this consumer, and to whet this consumer’s appetite for fragrance, so they start thinking about fragrance and they start understanding it a little better.”