My wife and I just returned from Paris. This statement is not to be misconstrued as being pompous or pretentious. If I had wanted to be pretentious, I would have begun with Bonjour or Comment t’allez-vous or Ou est la plume de ma tante to show off my French vocabulary. Actually we were celebrating our anniversary and Paris was a logical romantic choice. The romantic aspect of Paris is not entirely relevant, but relevance is not my thing either, as my marketing background will easily attest to. On the other hand, it is important to set the scene for what I am about to say. Be assured that what follows will have something to do with our industry. The powers-that-be at Global Cosmetic Industry have set specific guidelines for me and although they are flexible, they include being apropos and au courant (this is not pretentious since we use these expressions in English). I am there to support a great charity.
O.K., the stage has been set. Picture the Eiffel Tower on your right, the Arc de Triomphe on your left (accurate maps are irrelevant. I’m setting a scene). A street accordionist is playing an old Edith Piaf song (actually it was a guy with a radio playing Ricky Martin, but that destroys the mood). My wife and I are strolling down one of the famous boulevards. I am clutching my “Walking Through Paris Tour Number One” (of seventeen) and saying things like, “That building was the home of Louis the Fifteenth’s third mistress until he tired of her and had her sent to the Bastille. That street is where Robespierre’s mistress lived until she left him for Napoleon. Over there is…” You get the idea. Meanwhile, Joan (wife), was immersed in her own Tour Guide, “Achetez, Achetez, Achetez,” which roughly translates “Shop Till You Drop.” “Voila,” she would say, showing off her vocabulary, “that boutique near the cathedral with all those flying buttresses is offering a ten franc discount on Yves St. Laurent scarves. And over there, right next to that monument commemorating something- or-other is where you can find the best handbags. And to the left of that statue of what’s-his-name is where…” You get the message. “I’ll tell you what,” she continued, “I’ll go with you, if you reciprocate. After we visit your dorky choice, the site of the storming of the palace of Madame de Jeffers, the mistress of the Duke de Bearnaise, I want you to come with me to visit the perfume store where she bought her fragrances before she fled the Reign of Terror.” (I told you this tale would have relevance to the industry. Patience is a virtue. I read that on the doorway of the only edifice in Paris that never housed someone’s mistress.)
And so we found ourselves inside the posh Parfumerie Expensif, surrounded by famous designer perfumes, not-so-famous designer perfumes and infamous designer perfumes. You get the picture. I was in shock. My wife, however, made a beeline to the counter containing famous jewelry and porcelain bottles. “Look at this exquisite Baccarat bottle,” she said. “By itself, it would be a beautiful gift, but the fact that it also holds perfume is an added bonus. The same is true for this impressive Lalique mini-decanter and this elegant Limoges flask. Why, the containers by themselves would be enough. The perfume inside is just like getting a gift with purchase.” After discovering equally costly bottles from both the renowned and obscure, she chose one for her mother to append to her crystal and jelly jar collection, one for my mother because she loves anything she can exchange, and one for herself because it was our anniversary and it was about time I spent some money on her since…
She continued along these lines at some length (I vaguely remember words like “cheapskate,” “If only I had listened to my friends” and “twenty-five years with the same old furniture”), but I wasn’t paying any attention. Because at that moment, I had a vision. Actually, I had two visions–the first one was of my getting a night job as a glass blower to pay off the expensive bottle manufacturers to whom I was now deeply indebted. The second vision was less a vision than a twist on a concept our industry has long evaded. We’ve always known that it was more than the name of the purveyor, more than the beauty of the fragrance, more than the effectiveness of the advertising that helped make a fragrance a winner. The packaging was always given its rightful place along the other assets as assisting a sale. But here was an example of the packaging being everything and the fragrance a fringe benefit–a gift with purchase (GWP), in effect, as Joan so aptly noted.
This opens up a whole new world. Think of it! A GWP has to have value to the consumer. This we know. Up till now, the GWP has been some fashion item or general adjunct to the fragrance being sold. But now, by selling the bottle and having the fragrance as a GWP, you can be giving both equal and prominent positions as desirable commodities. After all, at present, the department stores and specialty shops are laden with beautiful bottles containing beautiful fragrances. What can you do to set your fragrance apart from the others–to set your bottle apart? Sell them separately! Think of what a boon this would be for the consumer, as well as for the fragrance industry. Especially for the fragrance industry. Let me clarify this further. Right now, one bottle contains a single perfume. But what if the perfume were a GWP? It would now be possible, for example, for one bottle to be sold with your choice of one of three glorious fragrances. Right now, you may love the bottle but hate the fragrance. No sale. But if you had a choice of fragrances, you couldn’t go wrong.
Picture the milieu.
(Now I’m being pretentious. Are you happy?) We are in a fashionable upscale store where the snooty salesclerk is trying to persuade a woman to make an expensive purchase. “I see Madame is attracted to that bottle. It was modeled after the flacon the French Baroque artist, Palonne, created for his mistress before she was guillotined.” “The bottle is charming,” she responds. “What do I get with it?” “Madame has a selection of perfumes to choose from. A summery floral, a sophisticated chypre or a modern vanilla.” “I’ll take three bottles. Fill each one with each of the perfumes you just named.” Is this our fantasy, or what? The variations are endless and surely greater minds than mine will figure out ways to expand on this concept even further.
To think, this all came from a trip to Paris. Thank goodness my wife is already planning our next trip–to Florence. I can’t wait to see the Uffizi Gallery, the statue of David, the Duomo. But even more importantly, I was told there’s a wonderful perfume store right next to the Ponte Vecchio. Who knows what visions I’ll have after shopping there? Joan has already begun preparing me by teaching me how to say, “Voglio comprare qualche cosa.” It means “I want to buy something.” Does she know her vocabulary or what?