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How Celebrities Changed the Fragrance Industry

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This post is an excerpt from Celebrity, Inc: How Famous People Make Money by Jo Piazza.

Celebrity fragrances can be an ATM for famous people— paying high dividends for very little investment of time or money. Done well, they also cement brand loyalty and provide a national marketing platform from which to sell a celebrity brand to consumers outside its niche market. Tim McGraw has harnessed the power of fragrance to transform himself from mere country singer to mainstream, multiplatform star.

By any account, Tim McGraw was one of the most successful country music stars in America in 2006. In April of that year, McGraw and his wife, fellow country music sensation Faith Hill, began a fifty-five-city, seventy-three-concert tour that grossed nearly $89 million on sales of more than 1.1 million tickets, making it the top-grossing tour in Nashville history. The previous year, his song “I Like It, I Love It” played every halftime on Monday Night Football broadcasts. McGraw had even branched out into acting, playing the dad in the family film Flicka, a modest success in theaters but a hit on DVD.

McGraw liked it, he loved it, and he wanted a lot more of it. He wanted to transition from singer who dabbled in acting to full-fledged celebrity brand. He knew this process would require cultivating new fans outside the country demographic, without alienating the loyalties of old fans. It required a delicate repositioning. He would have to find a way to get city slickers interested in country and let country folk know he was still their cowboy.

McGraw’s management team approached longtime talent and branding consultant Michael Flutie. “I told them we just had to do a fragrance for Tim,” Flutie told me. “I said, ‘I think that Tim McGraw is an icon in America and there is no person that represents the heartland of America better—the flyover states—in a way that is so aspirational.’”

Flutie’s reasoning was that a fragrance could be used to extract more value from existing fan loyalty and also serve as a foundation for marketing a McGraw lifestyle, one defined by success in a white T-shirt and jeans, marriage to a beautiful and equally successful woman, and a confident masculinity unafraid of a hint of lavender behind the ears. Across the celebrity board a fragrance boosts a performer’s bottom line by giving them entrée to the $25-billion-a-year fragrance business. A fragrance pollinates a relationship with fans, planting seeds for future dividends.

The marriage between fame and fragrance also goes back decades, to the 1930s, when the fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli designed a curvy perfume bottle modeled after the actress Mae West’s figure. In the 1950s, Givenchy created a scent for film star Audrey Hepburn that was musky and powdery, and in the early 1980s, Dynasty stars Joan Collins and Linda Evans promoted fragrances linked to their primetime soap opera. Elizabeth Taylor’s scent, White Diamonds, has been an Elizabeth Arden top seller since it launched in 1991, grossing more than $1 billion in sales and providing a nice revenue stream for an actress who was no longer spending much time in front of the cameras.

Through much of the 1990s, the fragrance aisles were dominated by fashion brands like Giorgio Armani and Calvin Klein. In 2000, that tide turned. The market for designer fragrances was saturated, and fragrance houses turned their attention back to Hollywood. Elizabeth Arden hired Catherine Zeta-Jones and Chanel hired Nicole Kidman. But it wasn’t until Coty struck a deal with Jennifer Lopez that the celebrity fragrance renaissance truly began.

Coty’s success with Lopez inspired a rush to sign younger celebrities to fragrance deals. Elizabeth Arden signed Britney Spears. Her scent, Curious, launched in 2004 and achieved $100 million in sales in its first year alone. Estée Lauder signed Beyoncé Knowles and Enrique Iglesias to reposition its Tommy Hilfiger fragrances. In 2009, a grand total of sixty-two new celebrity fragrances were unleashed on the market, an increase from a mere ten fragrances just ten years earlier.

“The celebrities saw it as a revenue stream without lot of responsibility, and the manufacturers saw it as a revenue stream to help their bottom line. They started signing people like crazy,” Rochelle Bloom, President of the Fragrance Foundation, a nonprofit whose goal is to educate consumers about the fragrance industry told me. A celebrity can expect to make between 5 percent and 10 percent of the sales for licensing their name to a scent, in addition to an upfront payment between $3 million and $5 million. Bloom likens a celebrity signing a fragrance licensing deal to going to an ATM: “low personal investment, high ROI [Return on Investment].”

Michael Flutie knew that customers were motivated primarily by three things: price, function, and psychology.
Since the launch of his fragrance, Tim McGraw successfully positioned himself as an actor, mainly due to the success of the 2009 film The Blind Side, in which he played a supporting role. Was the fragrance a causation or correlation? All we know is that the fragrance sold like gangbusters and The Blind Side made more than $308 million at the box office. Today McGraw remains a dominant force in country music, but Flutie’s fashion friends in New York City don’t scratch their well-coiffed heads in confusion when he mentions the singer.

Because it’s his job, Flutie naturally believes the fragrance started it all.

“If you really reach that Walmart consumer at the counter, then they will support you as an actor, and that support will help you to sell movie tickets. It increases your audience. The fragrance and his transition to movies happening at the same time helped to change the public’s perception of Tim,” Flutie said. “He is no longer just a country music singer. Through the aesthetic promoted by his fragrance he represents somebody who has a wide range of tastes, who appeals to a wide audience.”

The bottom-tier distribution platform was regarded as critical to their success.

“It’s what makes me so special,” Flutie bragged. “I understand that most people want to be in Bergdorf and Barneys, but let me tell ya, most people are not buying celebrity fragrance in Bergdorf. The difference between Bergdorf and Walmart is not quality, it’s price.”

Since launching his fragrance, McGraw’s brand awareness has grown by 13 percent and his appeal to marketers by 6 percent, according to private marketing firm The Marketing Arm and its Davie Brown Index, which measures how useful a celebrity will be to a brand. In terms of brand strength, McGraw now ranks much higher than most conventional country singers in his age range.
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