Now Smell This!

By Tom Branna, Editorial Director | January 1, 2014

Fragrance plays an important role in every household-cleaning category. No wonder why marketers are devoting more resources than ever to product perfumery.

“Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years we have lived…odours, instantaneous
and fleeting, cause my heart to dilate joyously or contract with remembered grief.”

—Helen Keller
(blind and deaf educator, 1880-1968)

Only a foolish marketer turns a blind eye to the important role that fragrance plays in today’s marketplace. Product perfumery impacts why shoppers purchase a product, how they use it, and perhaps most importantly to the bottom line, why they return for repeat purchases.

“Doing laundry is such an awful, dreadful thing,” observed fragrance expert Sue Philips, founder and president of Scenterprises. “If formulators create products with wonderful, long-lasting fragrances, they can make household chores less of a chore.”

Whether it’s during NPD or at the moment of truth on-shelf, fragrance often defines a product’s success, say industry experts.

“Scent is important because it gives consumers a feeling of clean,” noted Ed Vlacich, executive vice president and general manager, national brands, Sun Products. “They need to see clean, of course, but they get that impression of clean from how a product smells, too.”

Product perfumery can even help define a company. According to Suzanne McCormick, fragrance director, Method, vivid fragrance is one of the company’s four key business pillars. The product’s smell is considered at the beginning of product development, not as an afterthought. 

“We find fragrance so important to our brand because our sense of smell is the closest link to our memories,” she told Happi. “Fragrance is what differentiates us from other cleaning products. It’s what makes us memorable. Our unique, vibrant fragrances are a key factor in helping people to clean happy.”

The link between the sense of smell, memory and emotion is becoming clearer to researchers and that should help marketers zero in on their target audience more effectively. It all comes down to the way we’re wired, according to Rachel Herz, an expert on the psychology of smell and author of The Scent of Desire.

“Our sense of smell is unique in terms of immediately connecting with the amygdala,” said Herz. “The first thing we experience on scent is emotion. How we feel, the experience with the product, this unique neurobiological connection impacts our relationship with the product. It is the area of the brain where emotion is processed; we wouldn’t have emotion if we didn’t have a sense of smell.”

From Mundane to Memorable
With fragrance playing such a key role in consumers’ decisions, it’s no surprise that in every new product development exercise that Sun Products conducts, the first thing consumers do is smell the product, explained Vlacich.

“Fragrance turns rather mundane tasks, like household cleaning, into something special,” he added.

Something special can also be used to describe the varieties of fragrance notes that are finding their way into a plethora of disinfectants, all-purpose cleaners, laundry detergents and dishwash formulas.

Downy Infusions, explained Phillips, were developed to create a luxurious feeling in consumers as they do their laundry. With unique fragrance combinations such as creamy jasmine, lily of the valley and sweet rose, P&G researchers have transformed what were once simple scents and made them more appealing and complex.

As a result, consumers can choose from fragrance variants like Honey Flower, Orchid Allure and Lavender Serenity. In all, there are six Downy Infusion scents and consumers can mix and match them to expand their fragrance experience, explained Phillips.

“There’s an ongoing evolution in fragrances and what’s popular,” explained Kevin Kuchinski, VP-fabric care, Church & Dwight, who noted that C&D experts often look at other sectors, such as fine fragrance, personal care and fashion, for new fragrance variants.

“But it has to deliver freshness, a signal of clean. You can’t deviate too far from that,” added Bruce Tetreault, director, Arm & Hammer Detergents.

Still, by stretching beyond traditional household fragrance boundaries, C&D researchers have identified two key trends that impact how they scent laundry care products. One, consumers are constantly on the look out for experiences these days—even in the household cleaning aisles of their local supermarkets. That’s why Church & Dwight teamed up with the National Park Foundation (NPF) to introduce fragrances such as Purifying Waters, which was inspired by Glacier Bay National Park, under its new Arm & Hammer Clean Sensation. Through its link with NPF, a portion of sales from the products will support US national parks.

Another trend is the use of fruity florals in laundry detergent, which according to Kuchinski, helps consumers recall simpler times. Church & Dwight introduced Xtra Warm Vanilla Comfort liquid detergent, which balances vanilla, sandalwood and amber with fresh floral.

Sandalwood and amber notes in a laundry detergent? Sounds more like something you’d find at Bath & Body Works (B&BW), which is exactly the point, explained Kuchinski.

“A lot of consumers were teens and tweens when Bath & Body Works became big,” he noted. “We’re creating more complex fragrances to deliver more sensorial experiences to shoppers.”

Grapefruit became a fragrance note of note a couple of years ago at B&BW, so it’s no surprise to learn the citrus scent is cropping up in more household cleaning products these days.

According to Method’s McCormick, in the past, deep cleaning was often associated with the smell of harsh chemicals or fake pine and lemon but as consumers become savvier and are offered more fragrance choices in cleaning products, their expectations for authentic and more sophisticated fragrances have increased.

“At Method, we develop fragrances that are rooted in nature with an unexpected and modern twist as part of our mission to make the cleaning routine a more enjoyable experience,” she told Happi. “One of our most popular cleaning product fragrances is pink grapefruit—it’s our spin on the classic citrus cleaning fragrance.”

Like other household cleaning product chemists, Method researchers find inspiration for fragrances from a wide variety of sources, looking at what is trending in food and beverage, fashion and lifestyle.

“Our fragrances are inspired by nature and can come from our life experiences,” explained McCormick. “The inspiration for our Beach Sage fragrance came from a run along the beach near our office in San Francisco. The fragrance is a combination of the ocean air and the nearby sage, cypress and eucalyptus that is so prevalent in our part of the country. When I smell this fragrance I am transported to such a happy olfactive reference in my life.”

Mrs. Meyer’s, a unit of Caldrea (owned by SC Johnson), includes unique scent variants such as Sunflower and Rosewater Driftwood. According to chief innovation officer Pam Helms, Sunflower was inspired by the season it was launched in—early Fall.
“As a majestic and oh-so-happy autumnal icon from the garden, it does an amazing job communicating the smell of sunshine,” explained Helm.

She described the scent as a fresh sparkling citrus with a hint of spice and green…and more.

“The sunflower also happens to be a best example of a pattern of spirals being successive Fibonacci numbers—efficient, beautiful and natural,” she added.

As for Rosewater Driftwood, it was inspired by natural driftwood accents and forms that were being seen in home décor, said Helm. 
“This idea of aquatic tempered woods was paired with tender floralcy that was showing up in fine fragrances at the time,” she recalled.

Although it has such a major impact on quality of life, most folks take their sense of smell for granted. A recent study conducted by SC Johnson’s Glade found that 44% of people surveyed said that if they had to choose one sense to lose it would be the sense of smell!

According to Herz, while no one wants to lose their sight, in her research, people erroneously equate losing their sense of smell with losing their pinkie toe! To change that perception, Herz has worked with SCJ to promote the benefits of the sense of smell in a new Glade campaign.

“The large, multinationals such as SCJ and Procter & Gamble get it,” said Herz. “Both companies are very much on top of olfaction research and the important role that fragrance plays in a product’s success.”

What Works and What’s Next?
Every fragrance expert who spoke with Happi agreed that the sky’s the limit when it comes to fragrance notes and combination. But while the potential palette may be infinite, household product perfumers must operate within a framework.

Herz noted that there two important dimensions in product perfumery; the product itself and how the fragrance fits it.

“The fragrance has to fit the product so that the consumer can find a relationship between what the product does and the fragrance it emits.”

For example, she pointed out that few formulators would try to incorporate a chocolate chip cookie scent into a shampoo; but they may want to incorporate food-related aromas into an air care formula, such as Glade Apple Cinnamon.

“Product perfumers would never create a cookie-dough scented detergent, but with air fresheners there is more latitude,” explained Herz.

Other fragrance experts agree.

“We are mindful to work on fragrance directions that are aligned with our fragrance strategy and are appealing to our consumers,” said McCormick, who also noted that it is important to know trends but it is more important to know what trends are appropriate for your brand.

“We want to offer newness to our consumers by combining a familiar ingredient with an unexpected twist,” she said.

According to Herz, household product companies have a unique opportunity to move the needle in what clean smells like to a new crop of consumers. She noted that older consumers may associate clean with lemon or pine, but there is nothing inherently correct about pine or lemon scents and their connection to household cleaners.

“Companies have a great opportunity to connect with younger consumers about what the ‘new clean’ should smell like,” she said, suggesting new fragrance blends such as berry with green notes or vanilla with something else.

Helms of Mrs. Meyer’s agreed that citrus and aromatic fragrances continue to be important in household cleaning—they just were in need of some updating and texture to communicate clean and fresh.

“Curious consumers were looking for a better experience while doing their daily chores and fragrance has a unique power to influence all kinds of experiences,” she added. 

Although the basic fragrance families are somewhat standard, it is a matter of putting them together in new and creative ways and bringing innovative interpretations to what “clean” can mean, according to Helms. 
“As awareness of new ingredients increase, that creates opportunities as well,” she told Happi.

With such a wide choice of fragrance blends to choose from, smart marketers are waking up and smelling the coffee when it comes to the important role that fragrance plays in a product’s success.

Or, as Phillips noted, “If people are buying scented plastic garbage bags, you know that they want a fragrance experience with everything that they purchase.”
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