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Perfume Firms Get Scent of New Gimmick

Guests who ordered room service recently at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria discovered surprises tucked on their trays between the Dom Perignon and escargot.

His and Her sample bottles of cologne.

And well-heeled patrons who indulge in valet parking at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa are waltzing away with more than claim checks. They are also oh-so-delicately handed sample bottles of a new men’s cologne by Aramis called Tuscany.

No, the rich do not smell worse than the rest of us. They just happen to buy more expensive perfume. “We’re trying to get the fragrance in as many people’s hands as possible,” said John Wiswall, chief executive of Aramis Inc. “And this gets it in the right people’s hands.”

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Ever eager for any edge in this country’s $4-billion fragrance industry, the nation’s big-name perfume peddlers are now testing a new twist: offbeat promotions never before seen--or sniffed--in the smell-well arena.

Until recently, the best marketing sales tool for fragrances was sexy or offbeat names. Poison, for example, is the newest Christian Dior perfume with the sweetest smell of retail success since an equally odd-named brand, Opium, was introduced in the United States eight years ago.

But even with such names as Poison spilling from the creative brains of marketing gurus, analysts say manufacturers are running out of alluring labels for the fragrances.

“We’ve just about run the gamut of names,” said Annette Green, executive director of the Fragrance Foundation in New York. After all, how do you top names like Obsession (Calvin Klein), Opium (Yves Saint Laurent) or Decadence (Chesebrough-Pond)?

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You don’t.

So, said Green, “all that’s left is promotions.” Sample perfume bottles, for example, may soon be as extinct as the Hairy Mammoth. Christian Dior has opted to plop its Poison samples on the tips of 1 million imported African peacock feathers distributed to customers at a select number of department stores.

There is some rationale behind this promotional madness. Backed by its $9-million product launch, Poison expects to rank as one of the nation’s five top-selling fragrances within two years, said Allan Bahrs, senior vice president at Christian Dior Parfums, New York.

Some critics, however, sniff at even the most tame perfume promotions.

“It really is getting out of hand,” said Michelle Markman, fashion editor at California Apparel News. “The worst gimmick is department stores that stick the samples inside bills.”

It’s an Ad Agency!

DDB Needham Worldwide--the recently merged agency giant combining Doyle Dane Bernbach Group and Needham, Harper Worldwide Inc.--has erected a towering billboard touting the merger on Sunset Boulevard. The self-promotional plug depicts a pencil blasting off like a rocket ship. “Fasten your seat belts . . . there’s a new creative force in advertising,” reads the copy. Why the billboard? “It’s kinda like when you have a baby,” admits Alan Pando, West Coast operations chief. “You like to send out the announcements.”

Praise From Critics

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In a bid to get recognition as the top draw in the West Coast’s still-booming video market, Wherehouse, the Torrance-based record giant, has inked contracts with some of the biggest names in film critique to advertise its video wares.

The Wherehouse’s $6-million ad campaign, which premieres on television Oct. 16, will feature an all-star lineup of film critics, including syndicated columnist Rex Reed, the new co-host of “At the Movies”; Gene Shalit, NBC’s “Today Show” film critic, and co-hosts of PBS’ “Sneak Previews,” Jeffrey Lyons and Michael Medved.

With millions to be made in video sales and rentals, Wherehouse has recently evolved into a video warehouse. Consumers, however, have come to regard video rentals as nonchalantly as trips to the dry cleaner.

And at $1 to $2.50 a pop, video rental prices are pretty much standard industrywide. So, instead of talking price, Wherehouse will advertise selection. With up to 20,000 different movie titles available at some of its 186 outlets, Wherehouse claims to stock the world’s largest selection of video rentals.

By snatching big-name movie critics for corporate testimonials, Wherehouse is attempting to “legitimize” its selection claims, said Ronald Herman, executive vice president of Los Angeles-based Asher-Gould, the advertising firm that created the campaign.

Shooting of the 30-second and 10-second commercials began this week. To lend authenticity, the commercials are being shot on the reviewer’s sets. And to add more realism, the scripts have been crafted to mesh with each reviewer’s typical tone.

Watch for Gene Shalit, who pontificates, “To say that the Wherehouse rents movies is to say that ‘Gone With the Wind’ is three hours long.”

Question of Conflict

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A giant camera maker was recently hunting up an agency to handle its $15-million account.

Among the handful of ad agencies it considered was Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt of New York. It sent the agency a questionnaire that was standard--expect for the last few questions.

In a reaction to mega-merger mania, which has reshaped the ad industry’s face in the past year--and led to numerous client conflicts--the client pointedly asked the agency to specify its “definition” of client conflict.

David A. Bell, vice chairman of Bozell, Jacobs, said the added questions didn’t surprise him. “It’s a way of dealing with potential conflicts on a non-emotional basis,” he said.

Whether such questionnaires will become the industry norm, well, it’s a bit early to tell, said Bell, who spoke last week at an American Advertising Federation conference in San Francisco.

Since the rash of agency acquisitions and mergers began earlier this year, an estimated 800 agency professionals have lost their jobs in the squeeze, according to industry estimates.

There is an irony to it all, said Alan Pando, DDB Needham’s West Coast operations chief. “These same clients who are so worried about agency conflicts all use the same law firms.”


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