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The Science of Scent: Why Product Fragrance Matters

by Lauren Quick | May 21, 2015 | Bookmark +
 Getty Images
Getty Images

Our sense of smell is linked more closely to memory than any other of the five senses—in many cases evoking emotional associations; so for haircare manufacturers, appealing to clients’ sense is of utmost importance.

You know what your favorite hair product smells like. Your clients know what their favorite products smell like and what your salon smells like. A scent can evoke a strong memory, and the fragrance of the shampoos and styling products you use on your client’s hair isn’t lost on them.

“Of all the sensory glands, smell is most closely related to memory,” says Irene Seferian, Pravana director of marketing. “More than any other category in the beauty industry, hair products are ones that are first smelled, then investigated.”

And if you think of any product you’ve ever considered bringing into rotation at your chair, you probably did just as Seferian says—popped open the lid and gave it a good sniff first. If you like it, it stays. If not? No dice.

“Studies show that fragrance actually impacts perception of product performance,” says Mounia Tahiri, Matrix AVP of marketing. Which means even if you use a miracle shampoo that gives your client her dream hair, if she’s not attracted to the fragrance, her perception will be that it doesn’t work as well as it could, and she probably will not buy that shampoo from you.

Sensory branding

There are several factors that go into fragrance creation. At base level, research and development experts team up with perfumers and marketers to define a target audience—gender and age group being the most telling factions.

For Aveda, function matters. Aveda Head Pure-fumer Guy Vincent first considers what the product will do. From there, Vincent hones in on natural aroma ingredients, which fit with Aveda’s brand story and are well-known to have aromatherapeutic benefits, Vincent says. Not all Aveda scents are identical, but they all share that aromatherapeutic thread.

Some brands choose complementary but different scents that don’t conflict when layered, whereas other brands elect to keep one signature scent across all product ranges. Fragrance has always been a part of the brand’s DNA for Oribe, says

Michele Burgess, Oribe manager of product development. When Oribe’s signature scent, Côte d’Azur, gained a cult-like following, the team dipped its toes into the body perfume market.

“When we designed the brand, it was very important to create a product fragrance that captured the essence and sophistication of the line and at the same time worked well with our product formulations,” Burgess says. “We chose to use one scent across all products so that they could be easily layered together and also to create a signature scent, Côte d’Azur, for our brand.”

Fragrance with function

More often than not, and rightly so, the user experience is paramount in fragrance creation. Morgan Fleming, director of marketing for Amika, says Amika products should “smell as great as they function.” In a move similar to Oribe’s, Amika recently introduced its Signature Room Fragrance, which imparts the sweet, fresh scent of Amika products in homes and on linens.

“We received many requests over the years for a home fragrance—from the salons we work with to stylists at trade shows and constant suggestions on social media,” Fleming says. “After all of the olfactive flattery, we really began to take it to heart and decided it was the perfect time to launch the Amika Signature Room Fragrance.”

Amika and Oribe likely won’t change their fragrances any time soon, and most brands echo that sentiment. Once a product is on the market, changing the scent can be dangerous business, especially when consumers have such strong memory ties to smell.

“You can change the color of a bottle or tweak the packaging a bit and most people will either not notice or will not question it,” Seferian says. “If you alter the scent, it is almost immediately noticed. Beauty consumers are very aware of the fragrances of the products they choose.”

Bumble and bumble Vice President of Product Development Fadi Mourad contends that fragrance can and should change with current social trends. Mourad sites global regulatory landscape, hairdresser feedback and consumer-client usage patterns as reasons to alter fragrance, but make no mistake that much caution and research is utilized for such alterations.

The bottom line: Fragrance matters a lot. For you and for your clients, using a product means committing that aroma to memory for better or for worse.


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