The Business of Perfume Thoughts

The Business of Perfume: Demographics, Gender, and Influence

23rd May 2018


Who is buying perfume? Why are they buying it? Are their reasons for buying perfume different based on gender, culture, profession, or geographical location? And who or what is influencing them to buy?


These are not easy questions to answer. Perfume is a difficult product to pin down because it straddles two categories at once: it is both a functional product (designed to make you smell good) and an aspirational lifestyle product like a watch or a car – the reflection of a personal and complex interwebbing of desire, imagination, and ambition.


And anytime a product is more than one thing to a buyer, it’s not easy to pick apart the drive behind the decision to purchase. The answer has to involve some hard-nosed market research, of course, but also a close look at the psychology of why someone buys perfume.


Breaking down the fragrance market

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash


Let’s take a quick bird’s eye view of fragrance as an overall market segment. In industry classification terms, perfume belongs to the cosmetics market, which comprises the following segments: skincare, haircare, make-up, perfume, and hygiene. Perfume has held steady at just over 12% of the total cosmetics market since 2011 (while skincare is the fastest growing segment, increasing market share from 31% to 37% in just 7 years)[1].


However, within the fragrance segment itself, there are what Euromonitor calls “seismic shifts” occurring in the way that people consume fragrance.


Just a few years ago, in 2014, blogger Kafkaesque published a series of articles on the fragrance market, highlighting in particular three key trends that were impacting on the global fragrance market.


The first was a rise in market share of celebrity fragrances. The second was a rise in the sales of prestige fragrances valued at over $100 a bottle, even though total fragrance sales remained flat. Citing a Mediapost article, Kafka quoted the journalist as saying that, in 2013, “the more expensive products were, the better they sold. Fragrances priced $100 and higher jumped 30% in sales…”[2]


Finally, Kafka quoted Companies & Markets as noticing a huge increase in men buying and using perfume, compared to before. Their report said that traditionally, “the men’s market was confined to the after-shave fragrances, but today the cards are being turned and men’s fragrances for specific occasions are witnessing huge growth, holding the promise of emerging into a mainstay market[3]


What about the market now, in 2018? 4 years on from Kafkaesque’s series of articles, it would appear that the growth in celebrity fragrances has abated. In late 2017, Euromonitor released a report that noted that celebrity fragrances have shrunk in market share, “replaced by a new genre of hysteria; an aspirational lifestyle. While celebrity status may continue to play a part, the core purchase motivation has shifted from aspiring to imitate one person to being part of a community or a cult[4]. In other words, today a young man is less likely to buy a David Beckham fragrance just because it’s got his name on it, and more inclined to buy a scent that’s popular among his peers, or his tribe.


The second trend, i.e., the growth in the sales of prestige niche fragrances ($100+ per bottle), continues to grow. Euromonitor sums it up rather pithily as follows: “A refined sense of self, heightened sophistication and conscious consumption habits all benefited premium but dented mass[5].


Don’t take that to mean that the sales of niche perfumes outstrip designer perfumes, because they do not. Put simply, more people still buy more units of mass market (designer) fragrances worldwide than they do premium (niche) fragrances.


But niche fragrances, which cost on average about twice as much per ml as designer scents, have an important and growing foothold in overall market share of the fragrance segment. As Euromonitor puts it: “Mass outgrew premium in 2016, a pattern that is set to endure to 2021. However in market weight, fragrance will remain premium’s domain, as niche and bespoke offerings hike up unit prices and maintain relevance.”


In their 2017 article titled “Reviewing Global Trends in the Global Fragrance Market”, the website Fun Global Retail Tech agreed with this view. The article concluded that “Prestige and niche fragrances have seen strong sales performance as consumer interest in mass-market and celebrity fragrances has declined[6] and also noted that artisanal, niche premium fragrances represented the fastest growing fragrance category.


The strong interest in prestige represents a rich revenue stream that mass market brands cannot afford to ignore. To capture some of customer dollars flowing towards prestige, many of the major designer brands, like YSL, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, and Carolina Herrera have, in the last few years, all released more niche-style collections designed to appeal to the customer’s thirst for exclusivity and specialness[7].


Photo by Jeroen den Otter on Unsplash

The third trend picked out by Kafkaesque, the rise in males as part of the buyer profile, continues to be an area of high growth in 2018. According to the WiseGuyReports’ 2018 publication titled “Global Perfume & Fragrances Research Report- Forecast to 2023”, the female segment continues to dominate, predicted to grow to $34.24 billion by 2023, representing a 5.67% growth rate, but the male segment “is projected to grow at the substantial CAGR of 6.53% to reach USD 23.85 billion by 2023[8]. Men are catching up to women in the fragrance stakes, in other words, and may soon outpace us.



To delve into this further, we need to look into the Fragrance Community as a separate segment of the overall fragrance market.


The Fragrance Community


As of the end of 2016, the global fragrance market was worth $46.73 billion[9] and growing (Euromonitor puts it at $48 billion[10]). Everything I noted above applies to this overall market – the global fragrance market. But the total fragrance market can be further broken down into:


  • The Outside: The majority of consumers who buy and wear fragrance casually, as an extension of their overall grooming routine. Representing by far the largest slice of the pie, these consumers are swayed by traditional advertizing, magazine editorials and adverts, celebrity endorsement, peer-to-peer influencing, and the lure of bricks n’ mortar retailers like Sephora. This is the real world, offline segment of the buying pie.


  • The Inside: A much smaller slice of the pie that we can call collectively The Fragrance Community. A group of passionate amateur enthusiasts that have gathered around fragrance as a means for discovery, discussion, and, most importantly, the sense of belonging to a community of equally-passionate peers. Most of the activity, from community to discussion, influencing, and purchasing happens online.


I call the second community the Inside because it’s an insider community, with far more interest, knowledge, and commitment to fragrance than the outside community, which uses fragrances in a more casual, almost functional manner. Members of any community opt in because they want to be where all the like-minded people are and “to know they aren’t the only weirdoes who have been told they are crazy for going for something they feel passionate about[11]. This is no different for the Fragrance Community.


I can’t find numbers that would help quantify the outside versus the inside, but common sense and observation tells me that the outside segment accounts for the lion’s share of the $48 billion-worth market, whereas the Fragrance Community is a much tinier part of the whole – a sliver at best.


When people (and reports) talk about consumer trends in the global fragrance market, they are really talking about trends that can be observed at a meta level, applying mainly to the non-expert, non-hobbyist Outside segment. Those lists of top-selling perfumes per country all track what the global-level market wants, but it doesn’t reveal too much about what the hobbyists and enthusiasts in the Fragrance Community like or buy.


For example, although global trends accurately identify large-scale cultural trends per country or region, such as the preference in Japan for light, non-obtrusive scent, the preference in the Middle-East for rich, oriental extravaganzas full of oud and rose, and an American obsession for smelling clean, they are not particularly relevant to Fragrance Community members, whose field of interest is not limited by cultural or country boundaries. Many’s an American fragrance fan who loves the stinkiest, cheesiest ouds from Laos, for example, or the Japan native who adores rich, heavy orientals.


In other words, fragheads don’t see themselves reflected in those big, global consumer and market reports. When people in the Fragrance Community see the top-ranked perfumes per country, they don’t understand how the top-selling female perfume in France can be Lancôme’s La Vie Est Belle[12] when French girls could easily lay their hands on one of those gorgeous Serge Lutens bell jars. But, out in the Outside, few people,  let alone the French girls, have heard of Serge Lutens or would be willing to spend the €170+ on one dinky little bottle of perfume that, while an attractively lurid color, doesn’t even come with a sprayer.


Once someone has crossed over from being a casual user of fragrance to one that is a passionate member of the community, the less these global statistics apply to that person.


Of course, having said that, not everything is black and white. For example, the global trend towards unisex fragrances is well represented in the smaller, hobbyist community. The unisex trend speaks to the thirst for individuality in fragrance, an urge which has always been present in the Fragrance Community, but is only now starting to drive growth in the premium, niche segments of the wider global market.


Perfumer & Flavorist obtained a clarification on this matter from  Eleanor Dwyer, an American beauty and fashion research associate at Euromonitor Internat­ional, who told the magazine in late 2016 that, “Unisex fragrances are popular with consumers who care about expressing their individual personality through their fragrance; they don’t want to be assigned a standard fragrance based on their gender, but would rather find a scent with unique personal appeal.”[13] Both the casual and passionate hobbyist wearer of perfume is, therefore, increasingly invested in personalization, customization, and individuality in their fragrance choices.


Likewise, the desire to smell clean, fresh, and eminently shaggable, is as pressing a concern in the young, male-dominated parts of the Fragrance Community as it is in the wider, global market. According to the list of top-ranked masculine perfumes at Fragrantica for 2016, 45% of 66,000 respondents on Fragrantica voted for citrus-based or “fresh” masculine fragrances[14].


The Fragrantica list of top-ranked male perfumes, in descending order, was as follows: La Nuit de L’Homme (YSL), Terre d’Hermes (Hermes), Bleu de Chanel (Chanel), Aventus (Creed), The One (Dolce & Gabbana), Fahrenheit (Dior), Aqua di Giò (Armani), L’Homme (YSL), L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme (Issey Miyake), and Allure Homme Sport (Chanel). I see a version of that list, with minor iterations, cited across a variety of different fora, such as Basenotes (Male Fragrance Discussion), Reddit[15], and Facebook groups, to which I would add perhaps Dior Sauvage, Prada Luna Rossa (flankers), and Versace Pour Homme Dylan Blue as being frequently mentioned or recommended to young men.


The predominance of non-edgy, mostly mass market designer fragrances in this list tells us that at least part of the Fragrance Community overlaps with broader, more mainstream market preferences. But there are lines of demarcations within the community – separate sub-communities with distinct identities that either pull closer to or away from the larger, global market trends and preferences, depending on its demographics. That’s why a part of the Community will look at the Fragrantica list and think, “Yeah, that’s about right”, while another part will look at it and say, “Huh?”


What does the basic make-up of the Fragrance Community look like?


The Fragrance Community is currently made up of several disparate communities, which we can roughly divide into the following:

A. a group of (mostly) young males congregating on Reddit, Facebook groups, Fragrantica & Basenotes, followers of YouTube vloggers (the spoken word), drawn to audio-visual presentation of reviews, interested in male grooming & appearing attractive to females. Some people refer to members of this group as “Bros”. They are mostly influenced to buy by YouTube stars like Jeremy Fragrance and by peer-to-peer influencing from other males in Facebook groups, Reddit, and other fora. This is the group where we see the greatest degree of overlap with mainstream tastes and global fragrance market meta data.


 B. a mixed group of people, but mostly females who are Fragrantica users and who favor mainstream, budget-oriented fragrances, also interested in grooming & appearing attractive, using fragrance as a vehicle. There is much overlap between Fragrantica and Facebook groups, for this particular group.


C. a smaller (much smaller than the above) group of mostly females, usually a little older than the two groups described above (40+), but mixed with some older, or more mature, males. Less heterogeneous than either of the two described above, this group is interested in fragrance for often purely aesthetic reasons, rather than to smell good to the opposite sex. This group does not view fragrance as a functional product but as a vehicle for self-expression, artistry, and individualism. They seek out the rare and the unusual. They are avid readers of the written word (blogs versus YouTube) and participate actively in online community fora such as Fragrantica, Now Smell This, and Basenotes.



Demographic shifts in the Fragrance Community


Industry research firms don’t treat the Fragrance Community as a separate market because, well, it’s not a separate market – if you consume fragrance, then you are a statistic measured in with the rest of the consumers in this $48 billion market. The Fragrance Community is just one little layer in a massive rainbow cake of the market. And I’m not even sure that demographic shifts within the Fragrance Community over the past decade – real as they may be – have any real impact on global sales, trends, or stats.


But within the perfume retail scene at the micro, Fragrance Community level, the landscape has truly shifted over the past 10 years, and it’s worth taking a look at why and how. Although I’m not a financial analyst by any stretch of the imagination, three separate niche retailers confirmed to me that the demographic shifts in the Fragrance Community are real. And significant.


The demography of the Fragrance Community can more or less be divided into pre-2007 and post-2007. Prior to the circa 2007-2008 period, the buyer profile was as follows: predominantly female (one retailer put it at 85:15 female to male), ethnographically diverse, 40+, affluent-curious, avid blog reader. In other words, the Fragrance Community was mostly made up of the third group mentioned above, mixed with females from the second group.


The interests of this early crowd were: curation of personal taste, exploration, and a fascination with the unusual and the rare. The interest in the product (perfume) focused on the intrinsic aesthetic qualities of the product, rather than its functional role, or in its supposed power to attract the opposite sex. One retailer fondly remembered the community as being “nerdy” in a good way, meaning willing to open oneself up to learning and trying different things, even if it meant being goofy or admitting that one didn’t know everything about perfume.


The main source of information on perfume came from blogs and online community fora like Basenotes, Now Smell This, and Fragrantica. Blogs focused on the passion for the hobby, rather than trying to establish authority or expertise, and were therefore enormously fun to read.  Reader engagement was high. Digging up old Basenotes threads from the pre-2007, 2008 period reveals a very different atmosphere to the one today, one that was perhaps more fractious but also far less narrowly bound by traditional conventions or ideas about what men could and couldn’t wear. The atmosphere was one of joyous discovery. Cynicism and ego took a back seat.


Circa 2007, this scene began to change. The demographic profile of the buyer began to include far more males than before, and crucially, young male professionals in competitive environments whose primary interest in fragrance was to, as one retailer friend put it, “to smell good and get laid”. For one retailer to whom I spoke, the launch of the Tom Ford Private Blends (2007) and Aventus (2010) marked seminal turning points in the buyer profile of the Fragrance Community, because what they did was pull in large numbers of formerly casual users from the Outside and indoctrinate them into the ways of the tribe. This led to the forming of Bro culture within the community. This impression was later confirmed by two other retailers.


What happened in this period to generate so much interest among young males in perfumery? In a word: recession. The 2007-2008 demographic shift occurred in line with the worst of the financial recession in the U.S., which had impacted on spending in every luxury segment except for cosmetics, which includes fragrance.


Estée Lauder’s chairman, Leonard Lauder, observed in 2001 that certain cosmetic items had the tendency to do well even in recessionary environments – something he termed the “Lipstick Effect”. He said, “We have long observed the concept of small luxuries, things that can get you through hard times and good ones. And they become more important during harder times. The biggest surge in movie attendance came during the 1930s during the Depression.”[16]


Photo by Ruthson Zimmerman on Unsplash

In other words, people couldn’t spend as much as they had been on watches and clothes, but could still stretch to a bottle of Tom Ford. The Tom Ford Private Blend collection, which debuted in 2007, offered the aspiring (but struggling) consumer the chance to buy a tiny slice of the American dream when they bought a bottle of Tobacco Vanille or Tuscan Leather. It’s a business strategy based on offering, as the Financial Times’ How To Spend It section puts it, “high-net-worth individuals membership of a very exclusive club[17].


Even if they didn’t have the money to buy that second suit for work, men could still smell like they owned the company. Everything about the Tom Ford Private Blend fragrances are designed to send out exactly that message to its wearer, from the name (“private”= exclusive member of the club) to the smoked brown, luxe glass bottles, and the gold labels that broadcast just right balance between discretion and vulgarity.


Tom Ford’s Private Blend launch brought more and more young males into the fold. A second wave – still male, still young, a bit more affluent – came in with the advent (sorry) of Aventus (Creed) in 2010. This influx caused the buyer profile within the Fragrance Community to shift even more firmly away from the older, mixed crowd with a nerdy interest in blogs and towards a less diverse profile that featured more males, specifically the young junior-to-mid career professional for whom affiliation (the need to belong to a tribe or community) and a desire to smell attractive to the opposite sex are the reigning priorities. With this influx came a more rigidly-defined set of rules as to what a man could and could not wear, as if notes alone had the power to turn you.


Remember, too, that the rise in participation in fragrance buying by males was a trend noticed by Kafkaesque, citing a report from Companies & Markets, a market research firm, that said: “Typically, the men’s market was confined to the after-shave fragrances, but today the cards are being turned and men’s fragrances for specific occasions are witnessing huge growth, holding the promise of emerging into a mainstay market.”[18]


That means that since 2007, more and more males have been entering the market as consumers of perfume. Many of the new entrants found their way into the Fragrance Community from the Outside, a trickle at first, and then a steady flow that changed the mix on the scene. One retailer put the ratio now as 60:40 (females to males), whereas just 5-10 years ago, the ratio was approximately 85:15 (females to males).


Another niche retailer confirmed to me that this influx of male buyers tend to be young, in the 25-35 years old bracket, with skilled professions like ad agency, media, legal work, and so on. That’s a big shift in the demographics of a community in relatively little time. And it goes without saying that this influx – this shifting of the buyer profile within the Fragrance Community – has changed quite a few things in the perfume sector.


How demographics changed how we buy perfume…and maybe even perfume itself


Has the influx of younger males into the hobby changed the way we buy perfume? To answer this question, we have to look at what influences go into prompting a Fragrance Community member to buy perfume in the first place. It’s important to remember that while casual consumers of perfume (those on the Outside of the Fragrance Community) are influenced to buy perfume mostly through mass marketing advertizing (TV ads, advertorials in magazines), celebrity endorsements, and in-store promotional campaigns, members of the Fragrance Community are largely resistant to mass market advertizing.


In the Fragrance Community, people are influenced by, first and foremost, their peers in the community, whether it be through a Reddit forum, a Facebook group, or one of the large online community boards like Fragrantica and Basenotes. One retailer told me that hype storms are whipped up by the YouTube vloggers, but when the leads come in, they are mainly coming from the Facebook groups and big online community fora. Reddit brings in a lot of casual browsers, but they are mainly looking to sample, not buy.


This tells us that YouTube reviewers are extremely influential with this group (mostly males, young), but that the actual impulse to buy seems to be developed, massaged, and activated in community groups, where peers will tell the buyer, yes, this is really good, go for it – or alternatively, nah, it’s overrated. Niche brands in particular need to pay close attention to the factor of peer-to-peer influencing in the decision to buy, because it seems to play a key part in the sales funnel.


It’s worth noting that YouTube reviewing largely sprang up as a response to the new influx of young males into the hobby, and is now a key feature of the community. A quick glance through the available YouTube channels reveals an almost exclusively male audience, whose pressing concerns are with performance (longevity and projection), and with garnering compliments from the opposite sex. Even the few female YouTubers like Tiffany Benson focus on masculine scents, because that’s where the bulk of the audience lies.


The influx has changed our lexicon, too. Many members of this part of the Fragrance Community refer to the hobby as The Game, reflecting an almost exclusively male preoccupation with winning, dominance, and competition. Other terms introduced into the lexicon include “beastmode” and “pantydropper”, the first referring to a scent whose longevity is measured in days rather than hours, the second to a deluded belief that the right scent will get a female to want to sleep with you.


Has perfume itself changed because of this new buyer? Yes, even if we can only point towards anecdotal or observation-based sources to back it up. Clearly, performance metrics such as longevity and projection are extremely important to the young, male buyer, so it is no accident that most designer and niche masculines now come dosed with large quantities of powerful woody aromachemicals such as Ambrox Super, Amber Xtreme, Norlimbanol, Ambroxan, and even Iso E Super, a material that can give the impression of a radiance when used sensitively but strikes the head like a sledgehammer when not.


A recent example is Hermes’ Eau de Citron Noir, the 2018 addition to a line of supremely natural-smelling eaux de cologne such as the famous Eau d’Orange Verte (1979). Unfortunately, Eau d Citron Noir takes the Hermes citrus note and drowns it in a noxious mushroom cloud of Ambroxan, or whatever woody aromachemical dominates Dior Sauvage. Clearly, this is Hermes listening to the younger, male part of the community.


Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

Famed critic Luca Turin noted the rise in the use of such aromachemicals in an article called, appropriately, Power Tools, grumbling that things were getting worse in this area. It wasn’t enough that “every Guido on earth was strutting around smelling of Godzilla isopropanol, and it seemed things just could not get worse. Then IFF released  Amber Xtreme, a nuclear-powered woody amber chemically related to Galaxolide that outguns them all. The explanatory leaflet explains that “Lazily designed, badly composed perfumes are easily spotted by relying too heavily on their use.”[20]


Masculines boasting huge doses of these radiant materials have been the big commercial success stories of the past 8-10 years: Dior Sauvage (2015), Versace Pour Homme Dylan Blue (2016), and, of course, Creed Aventus (2010). The trend started in the designer segment, but has spilled over into niche, where it seems that every otherwise reputable brand from Parfums MDCI to Nishane and Tiziana Terenzi is rushing to get an Aventus-killer or a Sauvage-killer to market, all with the intent of capturing some of that rich money stream[21].


Cynical? You bet. But the fragrance sector is a tough one to be in, especially if you are a small niche brand that doesn’t have access to the deep pockets of Estée Lauder, Puig, or LMVH, so a brand has to do everything it can to capture some of that revenue that’s floating by. Nonetheless, it is these chemically radiant masculines that are the true Shibboleth between the sub-groups within the Fragrance Community. Love them? You’re a member of the New Guard. Hate them? Join the ever-shrinking ranks of the Old Guard.


If all this sounds a bit alien to you, as a blog reader, then that’s because you’re probably a blog reader and not a young, male YouTube or Reddit follower. And there we come to the crux of the matter: the shift in demographics of the Fragrance Community seems to have disaggregated the community into two parts – those who read blogs and those who don’t.


One sub-community is little aware of the other. If charted on a Venn diagram, there’d be little to no overlap between the circles. Call them the New Guard and the Old Guard, if you like. Although there are places where they meet, like Basenotes and certain neutral-leaning Facebook groups, their raisons d’être for wearing and buying perfume are very different, so sometimes it can appear like oil and water.


The New Guard doesn’t read blogs. In fact, they don’t seem to follow, give any weight to, or refer to written reviews at all, unless the review is written by a member peer who is part of the same sub-community, like Reddit or a Facebook group. I have been a member of the big Facebook groups myself, and have observed that participants rarely click on, or show any enthusiasm for blog reviews that are posted to the groups. In fact, posting a link to a blog review is regarded as “schilling” or self-promotion, and bloggers have been requested to either stop posting links or limit them to a certain number each week. On Facebook, people are far more open to persuasion by a comment or argument made in a group by one of their friends. On Basenotes and Fragrantica, many members skip the review sections and head straight to the forums for advice on what to buy.


When I compared the top-ranking perfumes in 2017 as named by bloggers and YouTubers, I discovered that neither the YouTube nor the blogging community seems to be aware of each other’s top-ranked fragrances. The blogging community’s top picks for 2017 were Vero Profumo Naja and Naomi Goodsir’s Nuit de Bakélite, neither of which appeared in the 1st to 6th ranking of the YT vlogger crowd. Similarly, Prada L’Homme Intense, the number one pick for the vloggers, didn’t appear anywhere in the 1st to 7th ranking of the bloggers. I’ll go into the findings in more detail later on, but let’s just say for now that this supports the theory that there is little common meeting ground between the two parts of the community.


So, is blogging obsolete?


I first began writing this article in response to a comment a retailer friend made to me, offhand, one day. Paraphrasing here, he said that he found it really funny that none of the perfumes that bloggers praise actually sell. Intrigued, I asked another friend in retail, who told me that it was close to an inside joke that the scents bloggers name as the best scents of whatever year are precisely the ones that don’t sell.


This friend in niche retail told me “If a blogger loves it, then the sales will be piss poor. If a vlogger loves it, sales skyrocket. 90% of perfume buyers don’t give a rat’s ass about what’s technically beautiful, or the art of composition, or whatever. They just want to smell good and get laid”. 


This rings true, too, with a blog post written by Andy Tauer on 22 December, 2016, where he said he no longer provided free samples to blogs: “Why no free sample draws on blog? Because, and many of my colleagues could tell you the same, it has zero effect on sales. No return. Zero. Nada. Nothing.  Furthermore, there, on the blogs, you talk to a closed circle. I could go into details but won’t. Just take my word for it. Zero effect. Totally useless. Except for the fact that you might make some folks happy because they get a free sample.”[22]


Ouch! As a blogger, that’s hard to hear. But while my research does confirm that bloggers don’t drive sales, it doesn’t really say anything about the true, hidden influence of bloggers, the kind of influence that can’t be measured in leads or click-throughs. My findings do reveal a broad truth about the Fragrance Community and how we consume perfume, though, which is that:


  • The perfumes that bloggers choose to praise or talk about are all quite edgy, artistic, and creative, and therefore, not seen as “safe” choices by the buyer who is far more conservative and risk-adverse than bloggers sometimes assume;


  • The perfumes that YouTube vloggers choose to praise or talk about are less edgy but far more people-pleasing, and therefore safer bets in terms of buying. The choices were also made with a keen eye on performance metrics and compliments from the opposite sex, factors not much discussed, if at all, by blogs.



But let’s talk about my findings, and later, I’ll circle back round to this notion of blogs as obsolete.



Research parameters



As the starting point for this article, I surveyed a total of 28 blogs, YouTube channels, and fragrance community sites (NST, Fragrantica, Basenotes, etc.), with a specific focus on the perfumes they mentioned as the best new releases for 2017.


I decided to separate blogs (the written word)[23] from YouTube channels (the spoken word)[24] because not only are the audiences very different (females v. males), but so is their focus. For example, vlogs have a higher percentage of content dedicated to designer fragrances, while blogs tilt firmly towards niche.


Only sites specifically mentioning new releases for 2017 were included, e.g., best of 2017 rather than best scents for winter 2017 or best scents for a night out 2017. This eliminated many of the popular YouTube channels which tend to tag their videos with the current year simply for sorting purposes, rather than to indicate new releases for that specific year. But it also meant that I couldn’t include some blogs that I happen to know actually do result in sales for retailers, like EauMG, because it didn’t produce a “best of” list for 2017.


Scents that received only 1 mention by a blogger/vlogger are considered outliers and not really significant in the overall scheme of things, so they are not mentioned here. However, the number of scents that only got 1 mention each was large: 138 for the blogs (72% of the total number of perfumes mentioned) and 76 for the YT channel vlogs (76% of the total number of perfumes mentioned). In larger blogs and community sites like NST, Basenotes, and Fragrantica, which include the input of more than one writer, each mention of a scent is counted, meaning that a scent can receive more than one vote from the same site/source.


Some interesting stats for nerds like me: the total number of fragrances mentioned as “best” by blogs/community sites for 2017 was 192, while the total number of fragrances mentioned as “best” by YouTube vloggers for 2017 was 100.






Ranked in order of number of mentions, the following scents were deemed the best releases of 2017 by the blogger community (written word):





7 mentions


Naomi Goodsir Nuit de Bakélite


Vero Profumo Naja






6 mentions


ELDO Une Amourette


Gucci Bloom





5 mentions


Gucci Guilty Absolute Pour Homme


Papillon Dryad


Hermes Twilly


Ineke Idyllwild


Frederic Malle Superstitious






4 mentions



Parfum d’Empire La Cri de la Lumière


April Aromatics Pink Wood


Atelier Cologne Café Tuberosa


Eris Parfums Mx.


Puredistance Warszawa


Bottega Veneta Eau de Velours


Bruno Fazzolari Ummagumma






3 mentions


DSH Perfumes Foxy


Atelier des Ors Musc Immortel


Cire Trudon Bruma


Bogue MEM


AEDES Pelargonium


Bruno Fazzolari Feu Secret


Zoologist Camel


Aftelier Velvet Tuberose


Masque Milano Times Square


Sonoma Scent Studio Bee’s Bliss


Cartier Baiser Fou


Comme des Garcons Concrete


Tom Ford Noir Anthracite


Dusita La Douceur de Siam






2 mentions


DSH Perfumes Habibi


Cire Trudon Mortel


Amouage Figment Man


Anatole Lebreton Grimoire


Juls et Mad Fugit Amor


Areej Le Doré Siberian Musk


Coolife Le Sixième


Gabriella Chieffo Quasicielo


Dusita Le Sillage Blanc


Hiram Green Slowdive


Shalini Jardin Nocturne 


Elizabeth & James French Grey


Guerlain Lui


Grandiflora Boronia


Imaginary Authors O! Unknown


4160 Tuesdays Eau My Soul


Escentric Molecules 04


Guerlain La Petite Robe Noire Black Perfecto


L’Artisan Parfumeur Histoires d’Oranger


Mona di Orio Dojima


Tauer Attar AT


Tiffany & Co. EDP


Thierry Mugler Wonder Bouquet


Tauer L’Eau









For VLOGS/YouTube Channels


Ranked in order of number of mentions, the following scents were deemed the best releases of 2017 by the YouTube vlogger community (spoken word):








6 mentions


Prada L’Homme Intense






5 mentions








4 mentions


Creed Viking


John Varvatos Artisan Pure


Armani Stronger With You


Dior Homme Sport 2017








3 mentions


Coach for Men


Prada Luna Rossa Carbon


Ralph Lauren Polo Red Extreme


Gucci Guilty Absolute Pour Homme


Valentino Uomo Noir Absolu


Gallagher Amongst Waves









2 mentions


Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Eau Intense


Paco Rabanne Pure XS


Yves Saint Laurent Y


Parfums de Marly Delina


By Kilian Black Phantom


Parfums de Marly Layton Exclusif


Jean Paul Gaultier Scandal


Perfumology Blyss


Thierry Mugler Kryptomint


Tom Ford Fucking Fabulous


Tom Ford Noir Anthracite


Roja Dove Elysium


Amouage Beach Hut Man






What do the results tell us?


Based on these rankings alone, we can make some observations:


Designer v. Niche: The balance is tilted towards mass (designer) scents in the YouTube vlogger community, and towards premium (niche) in the blogging community.


Gender: The scents ranked by the YouTube vlogger community were almost exclusively masculine, or at least scents marketed to males. The scents ranked by the blogger community were an almost even mix of unisex and female-marketed perfumes (with one or two perfumes marketed towards males).


Consensus: If we take the total of scents mentioned 4 times and up as a sort of “consensus” about which perfumes were the best in 2017, we can see that the blogger community achieved consensus on 8% of all fragrances mentioned, while the YouTube vlogger community achieved consensus on 5%. In other words – there’s not much consensus at all. However, because of the almost double the number of scents mentioned by the blogger community (the written word), its consensus on the top 9 or so scents listed on the table below is more statistically meaningful.


Intersection: There are few points of intersection between the fragrances mentioned by the blogger community (written word) and the YouTube/vlogger community (spoken word). The only fragrances mentioned by both, at least in rankings higher than 2 mentions each, were the following:


  • Gucci Guilty Absolute Pour Homme
  • Tom Ford Noir Anthracite


Both are designer fragrances, and interestingly, both figure much higher up in overall placing among the niche-heavy ranking of the blogger community than the designer-heavy ranking of the YouTube community.



Stacking these results up against sales


All this leaves us with the question: how does blogger and vlogger praise line up with actual sales?


Although individual retailers to whom I spoke were understandably reluctant to give me a full breakdown, and this only pertains to niche fragrances, I learned that the following perfumes did very well in terms of sales in 2017:


Retailer 1: Creed Aventus, Parfums MDCI’s Invasion Barbare (up 100% from 2016), Tauer L’Air du Desert Marocain, EM Molecule 01, Heeley Menthe Fraiche & Sel Marin, Xerjoff 40 Knots & More than Words, Byredo Rose of a No Man’s Land, Bal d’ Afrique & Gypsy Water, Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady, Diptyque Philosykos, Etat Libre d’Orange in general


Retailer 2: Mancera Black Gold, Montale Arabians, Mancera Aoud Lemon Mint, Amouage Beach Hut Man, Ormonde Jayne in general


Retailer 3: Etat Libre d’Orange You or Someone like You, Comptoir Vanille Banane, Parfumerie Generale Le Musc et la Peau, Goldfield & Banks Australia Pacific Rock Moss


As you can see, there’s virtually no overlap between the bloggers’ top-ranked fragrances and this list. (Neither is there much between the YouTube top-ranked and this list, but YouTubers generally mentioned designer perfumes not commonly carried by the niche retailers).


You will also notice something else about these results: most of the perfumes that sold well in 2017 are not new. In one case (Invasion Barbare, 2005), the retailer had no idea as to why sales suddenly doubled over the 2017 period. The same retailer also couldn’t explain why sales of Etat Libre d’Orange were also up, since they are not a new brand for the retailer.


In another case, it was simply the introduction of Ormonde Jayne perfumes in 2017 to the U.S. market that drove sales. In all other cases, the fragrances that did well all come from houses that are known for either their beastmode status (Montale, Mancera) or else brands famous for their smooth, non-boundary-pushing, people-pleasing style (Diptyque, Byredo). Other success stories of the 2017 sales period were either very fresh (and thus perfect for hot weather) or low-risk blind buys (Vanille Banane).


Some perfumes on this list are evergreen, in that regardless of their release date, they continue to draw new buyers to them over and over again, thanks to a universal, timeless appeal they carry. One such evergreen classic is L’Air du Desert Marocain (Tauer Parfums); another is Escentric Molecules 01, a perfume that one retailer said “just sells itself, basically”. Insofar as there can be evergreen classic in niche perfumery, these are the two prime candidates.


The perfume landscape is signposted by seminal releases that, in one way or another, mark a demographic shift in who is buying perfume or the way in which we buy it. One retailer picked out Aventus (2010) and the launch of the Tom Ford Private Blends (2007) as being key markers in the shifting boundaries of the retail landscape. Based on popularity alone, I’d add Dior Sauvage (2015) to that list.


These scents share common markers for success in this segment: performance metrics, aromachemical-driven radiance, and a tendency towards freshness. Even the niche ones have a designer sensibility in that they don’t push boundaries or challenge the wearer too much. They say you can’t please everyone all of the time, but these particular examples seem to come close.


According to the retailers who looked at my rankings, the perfumes bloggers praised the most in 2017 are the ones that don’t move off the shelves. There is little to no correlation, therefore, between blogger rankings and actual sales. One retailer explained that while bloggers tend to recognize and praise perfumes that are daring, artistic, or boundary-pushing, the same perfumes prove too challenging for the average buyer.


The retailers to whom I spoke named several examples as poor performers sales-wise, including Bogue, Sammarco, and even Naomi Goodsir’s Nuit de Bakélite, the perfume that received almost universal praise from bloggers, as well as a recent Art & Olfaction Award. One retailer told me that Nuit de Bakélite is a beautiful perfume that flips the idea of what a tuberose should smell like on its head, and that  only a “select few will appreciate it, and even a lesser, smaller audience will purchase it”. The message seems to be: the edgier the perfume, the worse the sales.


Another retailer told me that the reason that Byredo and Diptyque sell so well is that they are accessible; they offer the individualism that’s so attractive to modern consumers but done in a smooth, mainstream way that is completely wearable. The edgier the perfume, the less wearable it is judged to be, and therefore doesn’t sell as well. Byredo and Diptyque “are perfect entry spots as most of us can afford them, but you don’t smell like a cowshed”, according to the same retailer.


YouTube vloggers, on the other hand, are far more accurate in identifying, talking about, and predicting perfumes that will do well commercially. They clearly know their audience and tailor their content specifically to them. They are also great at creating hype and excitement around brands and perfumes. Every retailer to whom I spoke confirmed this.


One retailer gave me some valuable insight about this by noting that my ranking results were about 25% explained by “the general public’s plebeian tastes versus the minority’s more refined palate. People drinking Bud Light versus an aged wine, etc.” but that crucially, 75% of the results could be explained by looking at the demographic and gender profile of the perfumer buyer, and how that profile has changed over the past decade. Advice well taken – which is why this article is now 75% longer than it originally was.


But this feedback from niche retailers also suggests that the influx of younger male members of the Fragrance Community and the YouTube crowd are buying more perfume than the original demographic of the fragrance community, meaning the older, more gender-mixed readers of blogs. Companies pivot towards buyers, which is why we are seeing more fragrances designed to appeal to this group. Also, crucially, the perfumes they are buying are not the same perfumes that blogs are talking about. So blogs would appear to be completely irrelevant to this particular audience.


One retailer explained the appeal of YouTube vlogs as follows: “Perfumes are still, no matter how professionally we approach them, an emotional experience. Seeing the gestures, the facial expression while someone is talking about it on a video translates far more of the true excitement of a perfume than a text that breaks down the notes, the history and the construction of a formula, I guess.”


There are exceptions, the same retailer hastened to add. Some blogs take an intellectual approach, while others have a funny or emotional twist that draws people into reading it, even if the text is very long. In these cases, a blog post can generate a flurry of sample orders, but rarely full bottles. Kafkaesque and EauMG were mentioned by retailers as the rare examples of blogs (written word) that actually convert into sales of full bottles for the retailer once a review is published.



The Perfume Sales Funnel


But is the role of bloggers to sell or promote perfume sales? I’m drawn again and again to the (unspoken) expectation that blogs should be useful to brands or retailers in some way, whether by giving a good review of their newest launch or, if they don’t like it, by at least saying nothing at all.


Certainly, there are a few blogs who have aligned themselves so closely with brands and marketing agencies that it’s difficult to see where the promotion ends and the review starts. In the YouTube community, many vlogs are upfront about fees they receive from brands for featuring their perfumes, as if their honesty on this issue is expected to make us think their review is objective. However, most blogs (and quite a few reputable vlogs, to be fair) take pride in being on the side of the consumer, and giving honestly of their view so as to protect their readers from bad buys.


So, to the sales issue. Yes, a bump in sales is always nice, and bloggers are genuinely happy for perfume brands to do well. After all, bloggers are passionate enough about perfume to set up a blog and publish reviews, at no charge to anyone but themselves. But most perfume brands (and retailers) should be aware that the real influence of blogs lies way back at the thicker ends of the sales funnel rather than at the tippy top.


What’s a sales funnel, you might ask? Picture a real-life funnel, channeling a casual browser of a product down a funnel until s/he becomes a buyer. A lot of different things need to happen before the browser becomes a buyer. Most sales funnels are divided into the following parts: Awareness (widest wedge of funnel), Interest, Decision, and finally, Action (the tip of the funnel).


To break that down into the business of deciding to buy a perfume, a prospective buyer might go through the following stages:


Awareness: I have a problem to solve. I’m interested in finding a great clubbing perfume to add to my already considerable sex appeal. I start to Google brands; see what brands everyone thinks are good, or trust-worthy. Oh look – there are these websites called Fragrantica, Now Smell This, and Basenotes.


Interest: Wow, there’s more than one perfume for my particular need. Let me see if there’s some consensus in my Facebook groups. Now, let’s see if there’s a Reddit for this. There is, cool. I’m making a list of potential pick-ups. Let’s see what my peers are saying about these frags. I want to know about the best in show.


Decision: I have a list of 5-8 options and I’m looking to narrow it down. Now, let’s see if there are any detailed reviews out there that I can compare, so as to be able to make the best decision possible. Blogs, vlogs, YouTube, Instagram….I’m going to do a survey, see what the experts say. Oh, this reviewer says longevity is great and it gets compliments. The guys in my Facebook groups say it’s a performer too.


Action: I am ready to buy. I look for coupons and sign-up discounts. I click on a link, get channeled through to the brand or retailer website, and have my credit card details at the ready.



That’s a (very) simplified breakdown of everything that happens on the way from the first spark of interest to getting the credit card out. But as with any type of human behavior, the psychology behind the decision to buy a perfume is incredibly complex, and pinpointing the precise role of perfume blogs in the process is especially difficult.


It’s likely, though, that perfume blogs and communities (like NST, Basenotes, Fragrantica, Reddit, Facebook groups, etc.) are most important at the Interest/Decision parts of the funnel, which is where all the informal influencing takes place. According to the business website,, the best way to squeeze prospects down this part of the funnel is through reviews and testimonials. “Beyond the art of storytelling, copywriting and building the habit of link-clicking, you need to have lots and lots of customer reviews and testimonials. This is one of the most powerful ways that you can get people to take action.”[25]


In other words, blogs have some influence but it lies way further back the sales funnel than some might assume. And that’s ok. Blogs are not there to sell perfume. Bloggers are influencers, not salespeople. Blogs create content, form an authoritative (some might say expert) voice on the product, and build awareness of, and trust in, brands. If we draw prospective buyers to our site at any stage of the sales funnel, it is because that buyer is actively seeking out authoritative, critical content that will help them in making a decision further on down the line. If you’re looking to build a long-term relationship of trust with customers, then don’t count out the blogs just yet.


Although some perfume blogs sign up to affiliate programs, which enable a reader to click on an affiliate link[26] that brings them to a retailer’s website where they can buy the perfume the blogger is discussing, it doesn’t capture all of the sales. Most casual drop-ins to a blog will come to a decision, close the blog’s browser, and simply look for a coupon code or more direct link to a retailer’s site: in some cases, the final action (the sale) could take place months or even years past the reading of a blog or article that originally swayed the reader towards the perfume in the first place.


How do I know that? Well, because I buy perfume. Although I understand the frustration of indie brands like Tauer Parfums, which aren’t seeing much direct sales traffic from blogs anymore, the truth is that blogs still do influence readers like me to buy perfume – it’s just that a) this influence is not easy to capture or track with 100% accuracy, and b) buyers like me who still read blogs and are influenced them are probably a shrinking demographic.


For example, I blind bought a travel spray of L’Air du Desert Marocain, as part of the Traveler Set, directly from Andy’s website in April, 2014, thanks to a review of the perfume I had read on Bois de Jasmin, written in September, 2011. Looking at Victoria Frolova’s review now, I can pinpoint the exact words that got me hitting the buy button: “In L’Air du Désert Marocain, the harmony is quite striking—the resinous darkness of labdanum is wrapped around the chocolate bitterness of patchouli, with accents of woods and spices lending the composition a radiant quality.”[27] Beautiful words that led me to a beautiful perfume. Was it a direct sale? No, I closed the blog’s browser and went directly to the Tauer site to buy it, leaving the brand in the dark as to what it was that had brought me in.


In fact, most every perfume I’ve ever purchased blind has a blog story behind it – a piece of writing so convincing, so emotive, or so funny that I would feel compelled to just buy it. But that’s just me. Some buyers might mention why they’re buying a scent, others may not. It’s possible, therefore, that many niche brands don’t know that their customer is coming to them from the blogs. That kind of influence is difficult to quantify beyond an anecdotal level.


That’s why the premise that perfume blogs don’t drive perfume sales will likely cause nothing more than a shrug amongst bloggers themselves. That’s not why we blog, most of them will argue back, and with good reason. Influencers “are not necessarily driving direct sales straight from a blog post; the sales that do come will be more organic, and harder to track. Influencers aren’t salespeople. They care about authenticity and quality content more than commissions from direct sales. This is what makes influencer marketing so valuable for an advertiser — it reaches people in a way that ad placements can’t, yet it complements other marketing strategies already in place.”[28]


Having said that, it’s clear to me that we bloggers are mainly writing for a shrinking audience of the Old Guard, that group of original perfume lovers who still follow blogs and who invest in perfume for its intrinsic aesthetic qualities rather than its power to seduce the opposite sex. Andy Tauer noted in his blog that “10 years ago, it was a different world and the (few) blogs had some importance as intermediary to an interested and focused public that bought. These days, well, there are many more blogs and they talk to circles that are overlapping to a large extent and they are talking to a public that does not buy selective (artisanal limited distribution perfumery) niche, at least not in the extend they did in 2007; for many reasons that go beyond this post.”[29] {bolding mine}.


His analysis is spot on, except I think it is precisely this small blog-reading audience that is buying the riskier niche and artisanal perfumes, when they are bought at all. But the part about talking to overlapping circles and the lack of blogger reach beyond those tight parameters rings true. The influence of blogs is not what it once was, and perhaps growing smaller as more audience shifts to YouTube, Reddit, Facebook, Podcasts, and other faster, more immediate, more audio-visual formats for discussion.


Peer-to-peer influencing is really where it’s at, and blogs are not the best vehicle for that. Why? Well, because of the format. Blogs take time to read, and there’s usually a lapse of time between comments and responses. It’s not as immediate as a community forum or a Reddit thread or comments under a YouTube video. There’s also a sort of unintended top-down effect whereby bloggers blog, and readers read, making many people, including me, uncomfortable because there’s a sort of superiority (of taste? of knowledge?) implied, even when there’s no basis for it, or no intention on the part of the blogger for it to come across that way. Food for thought.








[7] Givenchy released the L’Atelier de Givenchy collection in 2014, Carolina Herrera the Confidential Collection in 2015, YSL the Le Vestiaire des Parfums in 2015, and YSL the Les Parfums Louis Vuitton collection in 2016.












[19] Women are often referred to as “females” rather than women, further revealing the puerile tendencies and lack of experience among some of the younger men in this part of the community.


[21] In case you’re interested: Nishane Hacivat and Tiziana Terenzi Orion are Aventus smellalikes, while Parfums MDCI’s Le Barbier de Tangers smells eerily similar to Dior Sauvage. That’s even without going into the whole area of dupes such as Armaf Club de Nuit Intense or Insurrection II Pure by Reyane Tradition.


[23] THE WRITTEN WORD: Blogs & fragrance community sites included were Ca Fleure Bon, Now Smell This, Basenotes, Fragrantica, Kafkaesque, Persolaise, Colognoisseur, The Candy Boy, Grain de Musc, Bois de Jasmin, Perfume Posse, Chemist in the Bottle, Megan in Sainte Maxime, and I Scent You A Day.

[24] THE SPOKEN WORD: Vlogs/YouTube channels included were Jeremy Fragrance, Brooklyn Fragrance Lover, Max Forti, Tiff Benson, Simply Put Scents, DracDoc, My Mickers, Nikhil, The Style OG, Mr. Smelly, The Scentrepreneur, A Gentleman’s Journey, Beauty Meow, and Tommelise.



[26] The difference between a normal link and an affiliate link is that an affiliate link carries the individual signature of the person who made the link (the blogger), and if you buy the product while you’re there, the blogger or whoever made the affiliate link gets a percentage of the sale.




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