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Fragrance Panel Studies Buying

A bottle of perfume is not on every consumer's budget.

When it comes to fragrance, something doesn’t smell quite right to shoppers these days. The scents are enticing, yes, but the thought of spending money on another bottle of fragrance is not, as shoppers tighten their hold on discretionary dollars — said presenters of the panel discussion “Marketing in a Downturn: Strategies for Selling Scents in Challenging Times” held Tuesday at the Time-Life Building in New York.

The discussion, hosted by The Fragrance Foundation, was moderated by Mary Manning, president of Manning Associates, who recalled several fragrance trends that grew out of past recessions, including the cowboy-style patriotism in the Eighties ushered in by President Reagan, which set the stage for the Stetson fragrance, and more recently the return to reliable classics, like Chanel, after 9/11. The 20-year fragrance veteran suggested the current downturn has prompted consumers to choose fragrances “they’ve tried before and loved.”

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The panelists — who included Arnold Brown, chairman of strategic planning firm Weiner, Edrich, Brown Inc.; Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, and Robert Passikoff, president of branding and marketing firm Brand Keys Inc. — stressed consumers’ strengthen resolve to spend responsibly. Brown said, “It’s very important in times like these that people be able to justify what they spend money on.” He added, “Wellness is a big issue with people,” and it’s a concept that encompasses feeling good about oneself. That said, Brown asked, “How do we get people to feel good about buying the product?”

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Corlett of WSL said shoppers are not in a feel-good mood, having just come off a spending spree and eight years of negative news events, ranging from Hurricane Katrina to yo-yoing oil prices. “We’ve got a consumer who is feeling a bit battered,” she said, adding that as a result consumers have begun to hunker down and correct overspending. WSL’s research has found that 75 percent of consumers surveyed report they have stopped shopping for things they don’t really need, and 54 percent are avoiding stores where they tend to overspend. “There’s a sense of Ameri-can,” said Corlett, noting that 58 percent of consumers say they are proud of the ways they’ve found to save money. She cautioned audience members not to expect shoppers to return to old habits once the economic crisis begins to dissipate, and instead suggested beauty firms find ways to help shoppers feel responsible.

Robert Passikoff of the Brand Keys marketing consulting firm said engaging shoppers requires more than simply brand awareness. It requires a media mix that, in his view, has a direct behavioral effect on the shopper. Passikoff drove home the point by saying, “Everyone knows General Motors, but nobody’s buying the cars.”