There is an inherent paradox built into fragrance advertising, which is the notion of persuading the consumer to buy a product whose essential function can’t be conveyed, seen or felt through a broadcast spot or an page in a magazine. Since Audrey Hepburn professed her devotion to Givenchy’s L’interdit in 1957, celebrities have steadily appeared in fragrance ads, although highly-paid supermodels would pose for these brand ads as well. Today—as is also the case with fashion magazine covers—actors, actresses and musicians have supplanted models as the favored currency to act as the face of a perfume.
But what makes a famous face the right one to align with an established scent? How significant is the correlation between what the celebrity represents and what the brand’s identity is? Are fragrance companies increasingly tapping celebs because they have had a recent blockbuster film, or a growing Twitter following? In a $3 billion industry, the stakes are high enough to warrant scrutiny.
Karen Post, branding expert and founder of The Branding Diva, points to three significant factors when a brand chooses a celebrity to endorse its scent: the ability to “evoke the right emotions based on the brand strategy,” credibility that is aligned with the fragrance, and a capacity to “engage beyond just appearing in a print ad or a broadcast ad.” This last aspect comes into play when a celebrity is active on social media and brings their own built-in following to the partnership. Post adds, “It used to be that building a brand was all about paid media, but now equally important is earned media through social media and publicity.”
For a perfume brand, capitalizing on a famous face who has made recent headlines or topped the box office charts is something of an easy choice, as the increased visibility is an added bonus for the scent. Marian Bendeth, global fragrance expert and founder of the Sixth Scents consultancy, thinks that a celebrity’s Q rating is much more significant than a brand will admit: “I think [brands] scour the entertainment websites to see whose name is getting a lot of hits.”
Casting a fragrance ad can prove trickier than merely signing the hot face of the moment, as perfumes aim to strike a balance between their already established brand identity and the need to remain relevant. “If a face and a name doesn’t fit with the brand, the consumer sees it right away,” affirms Catherine Walsh, senior vice-president of marketing at Coty Prestige. But often the unexpectedness of a celebrity fragrance endorsement can be intended. Karen Grant, vice-president and global beauty industry analyst at NPD Group, says of late, “There has been more of a willingness to mix it up. It keeps [brands] in the news. We wouldn’t be talking about them if they’d just picked another model.” Here, we look at 8 recent celebrity fragrance deals that at first blush felt incongruous to see if they pass the sniff test.