Technology would get to perfume; it was only a matter of time! Studies had suggested that "particularly among young people, there is no propensity to buy perfume, but on the contrary, they are enthusiastic about technology" (according to Maurizio Volpi). So in order to boost perfume sales, what better than to engage them through technology? This after all is the method employed by several companies of other products as well: entice with something irrelevant so as to stir into the wanted direction. We "consume" loads of digital media every day (blogging, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) so is this the new direction, especially for luxury brands to communicate their message? And is this message a frank one? Vivien Westwood had said during a speech at Unesco: "We can lie to one person once, two persons twice.... but never to everyone everytime".
According to the press release by Givaudan who introduced the iPerfumer application (for iPhone) in mid-June, shortly after beauty giant Estée Lauder announced its Ascent iPhone application to facilitate in-store perfume shopping: "Givaudan, the industry-leading perfumery house has created a unique tool to help individuals select their perfect fragrance. Now available for free download from the Apple App Store, iPerfumer offers individuals tailored advice on which perfumes to try, removing the confusion that often surrounds choosing perfume. Revolutionary in its approach, iPerfumer is a personal fragrance consultant in your pocket. It provides fragrance recommendations to help make informed choices, either for yourself, or when buying gifts for others". The technique is a rather standard one, pioneered by Michael Edwards who also has his own "recommendations" method on his Fragrances of the World site and has Sephora utilize his system (by fragrance sub-families and common notes).
On iPerfumer, after identifying yourself by sex, age and country, you're asked to take note of the six olfactory families proposed (Citrus / Chypre / Floral / Fougere / Oriental / Woody) ~famous examples for each provided to make it easy for novices. Then you can enter some of the perfumes which you like. And after processing those results, the application recommends several fragrances for you personally.
But is the new iPerfumer application as plain sailing as all that? We decided to investigate.
Michel Gutsatz, a brand strategy expert at The Scriptorium Company and the head of Le Jardin Retrouve, takes a critical look at the iPerfumer application by Givaudan at LuxurySociety.com. His doubts corner three drawbacks which also seem crucial to me: no motivation to try out the recommended fragrances (no info, no story, nothing), lack of ergonomy in acessing previous part of the profile created, "sterile" treatment of perfumery (the application doesn't create any of the inherent magic of perfume).
The matter of Augmented Reality (a hot topic that garnered a lot of momentum after the success of James Cameron's Avatar) surfaces when talking about how the iPhone rates compared to other methods. iPhone applications are entertaining, but the technology within the iPhone (and soon the iPad) is not yet able to unlock the true potential of Augmented Reality to the same extent that different media (a web-cam enabled shop display, a home computer or laptop) can. In the luxury industry (and perfumes do belong there for better or worse) where gimmicks are usually not taken very seriously will the iPhone and its applications find the fertile ground they need to catch the eye of the consumer and would they need to make the leap from "techie geek" to "lifestyle" to do so?
My additional qualm is that the results garnered on the iPerfumer often bear little relation to what a seasoned perfume enthusiast would expect out of the submitted information to begin with. But bearing in mind how in order to get recommendations in the first place, you're asked to "rate" (enough) fragrances according to preference, I would think that the ulterior purpose of the application is to provide Givaudan with an extraordinary cheap market research tool via which to monitor the scented tastes of iPhone users worldwide! And it does look like it's going to be updated at intervals, with a version 2.0 to roll around when there is need for yet more monitoring and see how tastes have evolved.
What do you think?