The Scent of Celebrity …

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Why do so many celebrities “create” their own fragrances and market them for mass consumption? And why do we  buy these products? Are we hoping that, by some sweet-scented osmosis, these celebrity-branded fragrances will squirt some star power upon us? When we spritz on our idol’s  fragrance, will we also spray ourselves with a bit of their talent, their charisma, their good luck, their star power, their magic? Or do we buy these fragrances because we admire these celebrities? Are our purchases a sign of devotion, an extension of fandom, a pledge of loyalty?

How should we decide to buy a fragrance? Should our decision be based on purely objective criteria: “Does this smell good on me, and can I afford it?” Or should we make these decisions based on emotion and association: “A celebrity says that if I wear this fragrance, I’ll be like him/her, and I really would like to be more like that star.” Celebrities who brand fragrances to their own names and mass-market them, like their movies or CDs, are betting that we make such purchasing decisions based on the allure of association and the power of the images they so carefully craft and cultivate. Ads for these fragrances don’t say, “Buy this scent if it smells good on you.” The ads say, “I’m sexy! And I created this! You want to be sexy too, don’t you? Do the math — buy this!” But the real math isn’t in the scent; it’s in the 5% to 10% cut that the celebrity receives on licensing deals with cosmetics giants like Coty and Estee Lauder, not to mention the occasional signing bonus. Those are some big bucks: officials in the fragrance industry estimate that the perfume industry’s annual sales are $25 billion to $30 billion.

How often do consumers ask whether the celebrity “created” this scent, and if so, what their qualifications for perfumemaking might be? How many consumers realize that, more often than not, the licenser produces the fragrance, then gets to slap the star’s name on the bottle. The star then receives a cut of the sales.

The trend began more than a decade ago when Elizabeth Taylor introduced White Diamonds. It then escalated exponentially: Wikipedia lists 84 celebrites with fragrances branded to their names — many of whom have more than one fragrance associated with them. It’s atrend that can lead the consuming public to believe that the only requirements involved in fragrance-making are an attractive bottle and a recognizeable name; it implies that picking your favorite fragrance is much like picking your favorite celebrity.

Should these notions be challenged? Should we hold ourselves accountable if we believe that buying a celebrity’s fragrance will make us more like a celebrity? And how should we respond when people in positions of power, such as celebrities, implicitly send us these messages?

Celebrities who’ve entered the fragrance market include:

  • Musicians and singers, such as KISS, Beyonce, Usher, Jessica Simpson and Julio Iglesias;
  • Actors, such as Charlize Theron, Antonio Banderas, Gwyneth Paltrow and Sarah Jessica Parker;
  • Athletes, such as Derek Jeter, Maria Sharapova, Michael Jordan and Carlos Moya;
  • Models, such as Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Calum Best and Alex Curran;
  • Quasi-celebrities, such as Paris Hilton, Svetlana Stalin, Jade Goody and  Katie Price; and
  • Fictional characters, such as Barbie, Strawberry Shortcake, Austin Powers and Dora the Explorer.

This blog is a collaborative project for five students enrolled a graduate-level English Education/technology course at Kennesaw State University.  The premise of the project is to find an innovative way to use technology in our own classrooms while also learning to examine all texts — including nontraditional ones, such as online content, advertising, and product packaging — with a critical eye and analytical mind.

We decided to examine the phenomena of celebrity fragrances and attempt to deconstruct the messages, images, meaning and motives behind this trend.  Each of us selected a celebrity who has “created” a fragrance or line of fragrances. We then attempted to analyze the branding, messages and values that each of the celebrities uniquely promote through their use of image, advertising and storylines associatedwith their respective products.

Ideally, we’ll one day teach our own students to intercept the endless media messages with which they’re continuously bombarded and to analyze and examine them with a critical and rational eye. We agree that this project has enlightened us as we’ve studied and researched the cultural and social implications of the celebrity fragrance trend.

Feel free to leave comments! We’d love to hear what anyone has to say.

- “The Geek Squad”

Zack (Sean Combs)

Elizabeth (Danielle Steel)

Toni (J. Lo)

Sheena (Britney Spears)

Julie (the Beckhams)