Perfume’s Packaging as a Marketing Tool
When we go into a store looking for perfume, and when we still don’t know which one we’ll like, it’s possible that we may not even know what we’re looking for. Yet, it’s very likely that we’ll stop before a bottle that we find attractive, different and special. At the same time, when we think of the most iconic perfumes, we might not know how to recognise their signature scents (citric, floral, woody…), but we will almost certainly know how to recognise and identify their bottles (would we be able to spot Chanel n°5 if it were in the Trésor polyhedral bottle by Lancôme?).
The prestigious perfumer Jean Claude Ellena (Hermès, Bulgari, Frédéric Malle, Cartier…) likes to tell interviewers that for him “perfume is literature”. Beyond the quasi-alchemist formulae of Ellena’s legendary nose, much study and analysis goes into a perfume’s packaging.
The Bottle as a Message
At the beginning of the 20th century, the jeweller René Lalique and the French perfumer Coty teamed up, leading to the creation of an iconic perfume bottle in moulded glass. The creator of one of the greatest perfume empires of the era wanted to differentiate himself from the woody fragrances that prevailed at the time with an exclusive and exceptional bottle. That was the start of modern perfumery: the bottle as message. A message associated with the luxury of high-end jewellery.
Nearly a century later, Jean Claude Ellena arrived at Hermès to renew and promote the fashion house‘s line of perfumes. The result? Ten fragrances, each in a bottle with a leather top. One of the last perfumes to be released by the French brand, an exclusively feminine scent to come from the new “nose” Christine Nagel, is called Twilly, incorporating a symbolic multi-coloured silk ribbon on its top. And voilà! The luxury of Hermès and its most iconic materials (leather, silk) in the range of products that they want to promote.
All you need to do is see the bottle, without even smelling the fragrance, to know what class of perfume it contains (mid to high-range; floral-woody, etc.), as well as the target for which it has been created and the values associated with the brand. The fragrances of Annick Goutal, for example, come in romantic and delicate bottles with minute details in gold and powdery tones. The type of consumer that the French house wants to reach is clear. The focus on the so-called “desirable quarry”, as described by Tom Reichert in his book “The Erotic History of Advertising”, is far from what could be the target of any of the perfumes by Tom Ford, which are associated with eroticism and sexuality.
The Bottle as Value
Clearly, presentation in any store’s line of perfumes involves a background that goes far beyond the (apparently) simple sale of a fragrance. And in this existing background, the design of a perfume’s packaging is the conduit charged with appealing to human psychology and to the details (more or less iconic, more or less symbolic) that associate a brand with values or abstract concepts that are positive or desirable for the potential consumer (status, femininity/masculinity, youth, eroticism…). A perfume bottle, easily identifiable and recognisable by the consumer, may be one of the most powerful tools available to a brand that wants to set itself apart from all the rest.
Before opening one of the fragrances we are potentially interested in (due to recommendations, the media…), we are bound to linger over the ones with the packaging that we find most attractive. The bottle is the hook. Only then, do the first fragrant notes of the perfume begin to appear.
Together with the strict design of the perfume (bottle), other elements, like the font or colour range, also serve to visually tell us whether the fragrance is masculine or feminine. While the colour palate of masculine perfumery is impregnated with shades of silver and blue, feminine fragrances come dressed in powdery colours with details in gold (remember the earlier association of perfume with jewellery?)
It’s the same when the brand aims to reach a younger public. Shapes become more innovative and colours flashier.
Deserving of special mention is when the perfume bottle becomes the vessel through which we convey the storytelling associated (or that we want to associate) with the brand and its inherent values. The Acqua di Parma bottle with its art déco lines, black bakelite top and the coat of arms of the Italian Duchy of Parma takes us back to refined Italian luxury and the sophistication and class of Hollywood in the forties (few images are easier to associate with the notion of class than Cary Grant, one of their legendary customers, wearing a tailor-made suit spritzed with the fragrance that comes in the iconic yellow box).
The legendary rounded bottles of Britain’s Penhaligon’s have the same effect. While it is clear that the real test will come when we open the bottle and spray on one of their fragrances, there is no doubt that the bottle’s glass top and signature velvet ribbon function as a magnet to attract potential consumers. This approach is a clear example of packaging and how it generates excitement (when spraying the fragrance, it is difficult to not be briefly transported to the English countryside or to the elegant streets of London’s Mayfair).
Let’s go back to the initial question: if our favourite perfume were to be presented in any old bottle and not in its usual packaging, would we buy it?
Certainly not, or not at that price.
Perhaps perfume’s packaging isn’t everything, but it is definitely a key element of the fragrance’s experience as a whole, sometimes immaterial, that determines whether or not we buy it.