Melon-Cucumber And Other Dirty Secrets Of The Sweet Smell Racket

Hidden cameras? Surveillance mirrors? "Consumer Village?" According to a piece in the Wall Street Journal, the home fragrance industry is even weirder and more sinister than we realized.

We're in the middle of a "scent wave." Fragrances are big business, and not just because changing a scent is a quick and dirty way for a brand to label a product "new and improved" without actually altering the formula: ironically, as people clean less, they want more smell - the olfactory proof that something is clean. Linens need to smell sweet and fresh; cleansers need to project "power." Scent fads are cyclical: cucumber-melon was big in the 80s, the 1990s were characterized by "rain" and we're coming out of "linen" right now. According to the Wall Street Journal,

Now the smell of clean has become a wildly varied bouquet: mandarin-lime detergent, disinfectant evoking "lavender vanilla and comfort," toilet-bowl cleaner in eucalyptus mint. Bleach can smell like a "fresh meadow." A new deodorizer, which hit store shelves last month, promises a "Moroccan bazaar."

And the fragrance labs? As creepy as an apple-cinnamon air-wick.

To better understand "scent seekers," P&G's name for consumers with a nose for fragrance, the company invites them to its Consumer Village, a research facility near its Cincinnati headquarters. The fully functioning kitchens and bathrooms there — decorated to reflect different income levels — let researchers read consumers' reaction to fragrances in a realistic setting. P&G recruits test participants who are paid, on average, about $25, the company says...Testing rooms include one called "Anita's Kitchen," which has Corian countertops and stainless-steel appliances to suggest an upscale household. Inside, Alyce Nicholson-Sheehan, a P&G scent-trend expert, gauges consumer reactions to possible fragrances for deodorizing sprays, plug-in devices and candles. Amid hanging kitchen towels, a rotating spice rack and a sponge resting in the sink, there are few signs the room is a testing lab. A small camera sits on a canister near the sink, and a curtained window frame holds a surveillance mirror, behind which researchers scrutinize test subjects.

One question that this raises: will the global economic collapse and ensuing shifts in people's income significantly effect these results?! Like, will a laid-off banker know that now she's supposed to like, say, "cedar" instead of "lily?" How does green consciousness play into this whole science? Are Mrs. Meyers Clean Day products really worth the money, or do I just like that geranium scent? And lastly: if the industry is this fine-tuned, how is it that anyone thinks the weird undermining Glade commercials are a good idea?


Is the Smell of Moroccan Bazaar Too Edgy for American Homes?
[Wall Street Journal]

Earlier: How To Market To Women On A Budget