Published on .

Reprints Reprints

The modern perfume industry was born in France in the early 20th century. One of its pioneers, Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, introduced her Chanel No. 5 fragrance in 1921. It was the first synthetic scent to be mass-produced and remained a best-seller into the 21st century.

The marketing of scents intensified in 1927 when French couturier Jeanne Lanvin created a perfume called Arpege. The in-house-developed ad slogan, "Promise her anything, but give her Arpege," became an advertising classic.

Most fragrances at the time were produced in France. An exception was the California Perfume Co., which was founded in 1886 and eventually became Avon. In 1932, the U.K.-based House of Worth introduced Je Reviens.

In 1934, William Schultz introduced a line of soaps, toiletries and perfume oils he called Old Spice. Although the original Old Spice was for women, a men's version was also introduced. Mr. Schultz formed Shulton to market his products and retained Wesley Associates, New York, to handle advertising. Old Spice became one of the first successful men's fragrances, followed by Canoe and Dunhill for men in the late 1930s. Shulton sold Old Spice to American Cyanamid in 1970, which in turn sold it to Procter & Gamble Co. in 1990.

During World War II, chronic shortages of perfume halted growth of the business. Fragrance marketing sprang back to life in 1947 with Christian Dior's introduction of Miss Dior, his first fragrance. Advertised by the Albert Woodley Co., New York, the fragrance was marketed as the ultimate in femininity-a counterpoint to the jobs many women had assumed during the war. Miss Dior ads showed women participating in traditional feminine roles, suggesting that men were in charge of buying perfume for their wives.

Chanel No. 5, marketed by Bourjois Inc. and advertised by Lord & Thomas, New York, grew in popularity in the U.S. in the early '40s, although World War II affected perfume production. The marketer was one of the first to use celebrity "faces" such as Catherine Deneuve to represent the brand.

Throughout the 1950s and despite the radical social changes of the 1960s, the prevailing attitude in the perfume industry was largely conservative; it was still widely held that scents should be reserved for special occasions and that men selected fragrances for women.

In 1969, designer Paco Rabanne influenced the fragrance business with a scent called Calandre that was notable for its melding of fine fragrance with artistic packaging. Fragrance notes were reminiscent of the forest and the ocean and, rather than being square, the bottles resembled sculptures. Advertising by Ogilvy & Mather was equally bold. In one sophisticated ad, the risque dialogue between a man and a woman on the phone suggested a casual sleepover the night before.

Then in the 1970s, Revlon Inc. revolutionized fragrance advertising with the launch of Charlie, named after company founder Charles Revson. Although Charlie was a knee-jerk reaction to a new scent from archrival Estee Lauder Cos., the Charlie ad campaign shook up the fragrance market. Revlon's in-house Creative Workshop in 1973 created the best-known campaign, featuring model Shelley Hack as the "Charlie girl," an independent-perhaps even employed-female who selected her own scent.

In its first year on the market, Charlie racked up more than $10 million in sales, according to Advertising Age. Charlie advertising became an empowering message for women across the U.S.; it convinced women not only to buy the scent for themselves but also to wear fragrance daily rather than just for special events.

Charlie wasn't the only success story of the 1970s. In response to hippie counterculture revolt and the back-to-nature ethos of the times, Jovan Inc. launched musk oil. Jovan used a unique marketing approach for its musk: it touted the scent as appropriate for men and women. The 1970s have even been dubbed "the musk years."

The success of Charlie and musk opened the floodgates to glitzy perfume marketing. Creative campaigns came at a rapid pace from companies such as Prince Matchabelli, which offered up the notable "I can't seem to forget you, your Wind Song stays on my mind" from agency J. Walter Thompson Co. for its Wind Song fragrance.

In 1979, Doyle Dane Bernbach launched the most famous of all Chanel campaigns, "Share the fantasy." The TV spots, from director Ridley Scott, featured strikingly surreal images of romance against imaginative musical backgrounds. The campaign was ranked by Advertising Age as No. 36 among the 100 best of the 20th century and was the only perfume campaign to make the list.

Independence gave way to sexuality in the 1980s, and fragrance sales started to shift from mass retailers such as drugstores to department stores, where beauty consultants spritzed shoppers and pushed sales. The popular practice of gifts-with-purchase or purchase-with-purchase mushroomed, fueled by promotions from Lauder.

The biggest marketing advance of the decade was made by Giorgio Beverly Hills in 1982. Giorgio was the first fragrance to be advertised with a new tool: scent samples inserted into magazines. Giorgio locked up perfume advertising in Vogue for an entire year with scent strips.

Giorgio sales swelled to $100 million after only five years on the market. Other heavy-hitting scents, such as Yves St. Laurent's Opium, Dior's Poison and Drakkar for Men from Guy Laroche followed in Giorgio's wake.

In 1990, the industry faced lawsuits from consumers claiming they suffered allergic reactions to the scented pages in magazines. By 1995, the samples were encapsulated so they had to be activated to be smelled, and most magazines started limiting the number of samples per issue while some refused them.

Also in the 1980s, marketers began to approach celebrities to lend their names to their own signature scents. Parfums International, a unit of Unilever Group, introduced a series of scents tied to the glamour surrounding actress Elizabeth Taylor. The first was called Passion and was backed in 1987 by a $10 million effort. A decade later, in February 1996, Ms. Taylor appeared in a promotional stunt as guest star in four CBS Monday night series, all on the same night. Series writers developed plot lines around her Black Pearls fragrance for each show, allowing her to appear as herself while promoting the scent.

The designer craze also spread to the men's segment, with scents such as Geoffrey Beene's Grey Flannel (1975), Halston Z-14 (1976) and Polo by Ralph Lauren (1978) hitting the shelves. Calvin Klein entered the fray with Obsession, which the marketer licensed to Chesebrough-Pond's, spending more than $17 million in 1985. The campaign shook up the world of scent advertising with shots of nude men and women.

The shock effect worked for Calvin Klein: Obsession hit sales of $30 million in its firs year. After three years, the company launched a campaign starring model Kate Moss in TV spots created by in-house agency CRK; again, the campaign drew criticism, targeted at its use of the waif-thin Ms. Moss.

After the sexual overtones of fragrance advertising in the 1980s, the scents launched during the 1990s reflected a shift to romance, with introductions such as Chanel's Allure, Dolce Vita from Dior and Pleasures by Estee Lauder.

But as ad budgets continued to balloon, the stakes for entry into the fragrance market began to get too high for mass-market brands. Marketers claimed they needed to spend at least $30 million for a successful new-product introduction and at least $10 million to maintain a brand.

P&G-which had been marketing such brands as Navy and California-exited the business. Coty Inc. remained in the U.S. mass market, but decided only to introduce new scents based on existing strong franchises. Revlon maintained its existing scents, such as Charlie, Fire & Ice and Jontue, but no longer developed new products.

Many retailers started adding their own scents in the late 1990s, including Tiffany & Co., The Gap, Victoria's Secret and Ann Taylor. Avon, although best known for color cosmetics, remained a factor in fragrance, too. Its fragrance business topped $1 billion in sales in 2000.

Another move at the end of the 20th century was the growth of non-traditional fragrances. Sensing that women and men were not as interested in dabbing on a scent on a daily basis, marketers touted aromacology products, such as scented candles or bath additives. One of the most successful, with U.S. sales exceeding $70 million, according to Information Resources Inc., was Coty's Healing Garden, a line of products with ingredients designed to evoke a particular feeling-lavender, for example, for relaxation.

Custom blends also began to increase in popularity thanks to companies such as Jo Malone and At Jo Malone, patrons "play" with oils to create a scent. allows customers to order a customized scent online. In addition, the Internet has opened a way for consumers to buy favorite scents online via sites such as

By the beginning of the 21st century, fragrance sales in the U.S. exceeded $5.4 billion, and an estimated $243 million per year was being spent by the industry on advertising.

In this article:
Most Popular