Smell My Candie's

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You might think an advertisement featuring a company spokesmodel sitting on a toilet would be enough boundary-pushing for one brand. But apparently Candie's, which featured Jenny McCarthy with her pants around her ankles as part of its 1997 print campaign, doesn't agree.

Known for its flamboyant celebrity ads, its comeback after initial success in the 1970s, and its trendy shoes, Candie's is now setting its sights on that little piece of heaven where all good fashion companies want to go before they die: the lucrative land of fragrance.

Calvin did it. Tommy did it. Candie's can, too. Or so the thinking goes. With a $20 million campaign backing it up, the Purchase, New York-based company is hoping to waft its way into the hearts of teens across America and give those popular scents from the big boys a run for their money.

The question is, can Candie's do it? Once a brand is established, a signature fragrance can be a very profitable way to take advantage of name cache. But for this to work, the audience has to agree that the name is something with which they really want to be associated. They're going to be spraying it all over themselves, after all. Does Candie's hold enough sway with teens to sustain a full-scale fragrance line, let alone a pricey one to be sold in department stores?

That teens are buying fragrances is not a matter of debate. According to research compiled by Liz Claiborne Cosmetics, which holds the licensing agreement for Candie's new line, teenage girls spent $708 million on fragrance for themselves last year, and an additional $420 million giving the stuff as gifts. Michael Wood, vice president of Teenage Research Unlimited, says the average 12-to-19-year-old girl uses fragrance five times a week. Forty-nine percent of guys in the same age group say they've used a fragrance in the past seven days.

"It's been on the rise," Wood says. He points to savvy brands getting into the market and the rise of stores like H2O and Bath & Body Works, which sell scented lotions and body mists, both popular teen items.

"It's tough to know how much more it will grow," Wood says, "but I think it's fair to say it will continue. Definitely."

Kevin Umeh, president and CEO of New York City-based Emerging Adult Research, which does monthly surveys of 12-to-24-year-olds, isn't sure Candie's is destined to be the next big thing in this burgeoning market. According to his research, one out of three teens age 12 to 17 said Candie's was uncool. But then again, Umeh focuses on urban kids, and Candie's may not be as dumb as some of its ads would lead you to believe. The company is carefully pointing its marketing rays at the suburban teen market. It's the difference between kids who listen to 98 Degrees, the Back Street Boys, and Britney Spears, and the ones who are into Crystal Method, Jay-Z, and Nas. It's the difference between mall-crawlers decked out in clothes from Gap and Pacific Sun, and urban trendsetters sporting Ecko Unlimited, Lugz, and Enyce.

Early next month, just as kids are making the dreaded trek back to school, Candie's will be bombarding them with a splashy TV campaign airing on VH1, MTV, USA Network, and WB. The ad features teen idol Alyssa Milano and a buff young man frolicking on a big bed to the sound of Roy Orbison singing "Candy Man." Everything is going along pretty much as you'd expect, but then Alyssa, nostrils quivering and eyes closed, breaks the foreplay to reach for a bottle of Candie's, which rests, conveniently, on her bedside table, and spritzes herself. Her partner then turns for his Candie's cologne - the men's fragrance comes in a matching bottle - but can't find it. Alyssa has to cool her heels while he hunts. Once he finds it and sprays himself, Alyssa pulls him onto the bed and...well, that's where the ad ends.

Print ads featuring stills from the commercial will run in the major fashion and music magazines, as well as specialized teen publications such as Seventeen, Teen People, and YM.

The campaign is highly sexualized and undoubtedly will raise eyebrows and perhaps even alarm among some parents. Yet, despite the bedroom setting, there is a humorously light, over-the-top feel to the ad. When the camera closes in on Milano's twitching nostrils, it's as campy as it is sexy. When the young stud searches nervously for his bottle of cologne - while the girl of his dreams in the position of his dreams waits - it's hard to take the situation too seriously. The ad carefully walks the line between being risque and safe, giving teens a glimpse of the sex they're so curious about, but then pulling back before things get too hairy. The old-time song helps maintain this delicate balance. (In fact, the product is defined by its retro theme: The scent itself features - God help us - white patchouli, and the packaging has a tie-dye look, which should appeal to youth culture's obsession with times gone by.)

But the question remains: Even if the ad is a hit and the packaging is dead on, will teens haul themselves into department stores to make the purchase? After all, just 64 percent of teens say they've been to a department store in the last 30 days, according to Wood of TRU. Candie's claims to have this covered, however. Sales reps are being trained to hang out in malls and other teen-friendly locations, dispensing temporary tattoos that release the Candie's fragrance. Deals are also in the works for coupon giveaways and promotional tie-ins with concerts that teens are likely to attend.

The price points for Candie's new line, which includes hair gel and scented lotions as well as the traditional perfume and aftershave, run as high as $45. This seems hefty for people who still count going to school as their full-time occupation. Teens spend about $84 a week, according to TRU. Will they spend half of that on a bottle of perfume or aftershave? Umeh of Emerging Adult Research says that if they like it, they will. Price, within a certain ballpark, is almost irrelevant among teens, he says. First of all, they have more money than their predecessors used to. And second, if the pull of the brand image is strong enough, they'll save until they can make the purchase. Umeh points to the success of pricey cosmetic lines like MAC and Hard Candy, which have been extremely successful with the teen market.

So all the pieces are in place. As long as no one notices what the fragrance actually smells like, Candie's should be in good shape.

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