Consumers Followed Their Noses: How Fragrance Ended Up Everywhere

Is there any product that doesn’t come in a scented version?  Today you can buy not just scented candles but scented air filters, scented kitty litter, scented trash bags, and scented paint.

But that wasn’t always the case, and IMC has spent a lot of time studying how fragrance brands expanded into dozens of new products, and new retail shelves, over the last 20 years.  It’s a fascinating case study in new product development and brand licensing.

1992 – Fragrance Meant Air Spray

Twenty years ago, the everyday fragrance and odor-elimination category was limited to a few products, mostly sold in one place in the store.  The chart above shows the layout of a typical mass retailer, circa 1992.  People who wanted to make their homes smell better could buy one of several aircare brands like Glade, Renuzit and Lysol, all of them sold in one place.  In the baking aisle they could also pick up some Arm & Hammer baking soda to keep their refrigerator or freezer smelling fresh.

2002 – Fragrance Starting to Grow

A decade later – as the image above illustrates – things were starting to change.  Brands like Arm & Hammer had begun expanding into new product lines, using its odor control platform to support both internal line extensions (like kitty litter and deodorant) and brand licensing (with air filters).   Traditional fragrance brands had not yet expanded beyond their homecare shelf, but a new brand from Cincinnati had joined them there, and by responding quickly to changing consumer desires, Febreze would eventually explode and transform the category.

2014 – Fragrance is Everywhere (Almost)

Over the last decade, two major changes have happened, both driven by consumers themselves.

First, consumers have come to expect fragrance everywhere.  Buying scented candles, plug-ins, diffusers and scented oil has not limited their appetite for fragrance but expanded it.  And more fragrance products have not cannibalized other fragrance products; the category itself has expanded, as consumers expect to find fragrance in every place where it can help, as in the co-branding partnership we negotiated between Nestle Purina’s Tidy Cats and Glade.

Second, it appears that consumers have stopped differentiating between “positive fragrance” and “odor elimination,” a categorization that traditionalist brand managers continue to think matters.  Arm & Hammer and Febreze were both born in the “odor elimination” realm, but now support products that deliver specific fragrances like Febreze “Thai Dragon Fruit” auto vent clips  and Arm & Hammer “Vanilla Bean” air spray.  Even a disinfectant brand like Lysol offers sprays with a wide range of Lysol scents like “Lemon Breeze.”    Brands that want to succeed in the competitive footprint you see in the chart above need to deliver against all consumer fragrance needs, not just the ones they’ve delivered against in the past.

What next?

What does this inexhaustible demand for scented products mean?  It means that the leading brands should continue pushing the boundaries where scent can add value.  It also means that that more brands should be considering how they can play a role in this under appreciated consumer space – especially brands whose equities originate somewhere other than the traditional air spray brands:

Home Décor brands:  A brand like Yankee Candle should consider extending itself to scented products that aren’t sold in its own stores.  A retail development strategy and the right partnerships could expand the brand while also driving more consumers back to its own retail outlets.

Cleaning brands: A brand like Method, which has already proven itself elastic enough that I used it as a model of the new “omni-product brand,” is not well-known for its fragrance, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t stand for fragrance in its own way, with fresh scents, green production values and unique packaging.

Green brands: One of the unspoken conflicts in the scent category is that the products are often not good for the environment, or even for the air they perfume.  Brands like Seventh Generation or Tom’s of Maine could bring unique environmental credibility to the right products in this space.

Social expressions: Fragrance is related to hospitality and the way we celebrate each other.  Why can’t a brand like Hallmark deliver its own take on scented products that can be used for entertaining or gifts?


The growing retail footprint for scented/fragrance products is one that has made just about everyone happy: brands have grown beyond their historical boundaries; consumers enjoy better smells wherever they want; and retailers are selling more products.  We all know the pleasure of smelling an odor we like after smelling an odor we don’t like.  Consider how your brand or product could put that smile on the face of consumers next.

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