How Dior made Sauvage the world’s number one fragrance

Dior’s Sauvage fragrance is enjoying a moment in the spotlight, but not just for the reasons a casual tabloid reader might think.

Frontman Johnny Depp’s libel lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard – which was decided in Depp’s favor – has put both the movie star and Sauvage in the headlines. Dior has been hailed by the actor’s fans and lambasted by critics for backing Depp in the face of serious allegations.

Dior declined to comment on its strategy to keep Depp as the face of Sauvage. But the brand may be betting that in today’s fast-paced news cycle, consumers will quickly move on.

Indeed, the fragrance’s fame goes further than recent events: Dior has spent the last seven years building on the initial success of Sauvage when it launched in 2015, investing in TV spots and major advertising campaigns. outdoor advertising featuring Depp as well as expanding its roster of ambassadors, rolling out new formulations and building dedicated displays in major outlets around the world.

Last year, the Fragrance Foundation Awards named Sauvage Elixir (a new, more potent formulation of the fragrance) as its luxury men’s fragrance of the year; Dior has signed a promising new ambassador for Sauvage in the form of Paris Saint Germain soccer star Kylian Mbappé and announced that Sauvage has become the world’s best-selling fragrance across genres – pushing female blockbusters like Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle and Life Is Beautiful by Lancome. The brand said a bottle is sold every three seconds in 2021.

First-half sales of parent company LVMH’s fragrances and cosmetics division rose 13% on an organic basis to 3.61 billion euros, the company said on Tuesday.

The rise of Sauvage comes in a buoyant market for fragrance: according to NPD, sales of fragrances in the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France and Germany increased by 19% to reach $8.3 billion year-over-year in March 2022, while U.S. fragrance sales increased 43%. percent to $6.5 billion over the same period. Yet the prestige segment – which conjures up the big budget and celebrity fragrances of luxury brands – has seen increased competition from niche players that are less reliant on department stores and travel retail.

By striking the right balance between luxury and mass appeal in both product and marketing, Sauvage has become a bright spot in the category.

“The older version, Eau Sauvage, had lost its appeal with contemporary consumers,” said Thomai Serdari, professor of marketing at NYU’s Stern School of Business. “[Dior] has positioned this new Sauvage in a way that it signifies luxury…while the creation truly aligns with what the idea of ​​contemporary culture is today.

Dior rooted Sauvage’s new narrative in the American West, with a bejewel-and-goatee-laden Depp rather than a more pared-back European leader, setting it apart from the market. Dior declined to make a spokesperson available for an interview, but in an e-mail comment attributed Sauvage’s success in part to a positioning “away from the stereotypical representation of masculinity, but very faithful to the aspirations of most men”.

“If you look at the visuals, it looks… edgy and futuristic,” Serdari said of Sauvage’s creative imagery. “[Dior] did a good job of strategically linking the tradition they had in-house with what contemporary taste is today.

Luxury for the masses

Prior to 2015, Dior men’s fragrances were centered around the Dior Homme line, which had at least eight “flankers”, while the original Eau Sauvage collection – which was first launched in 1966 – had three flankers ( a sister fragrance that shares similar notes and is often used as a way to grow a fragrance brand), which were designed to help the brand reach a younger audience.

In constructing the new Sauvage, Dior, led by perfumer François Demachy, increased the intensity of the fragrance, including top notes of bergamot for pepper and bitterness, ambroxan for “marine and animal notes to create untamed sensuality” and the “masculine notes” of vetiver. , geranium, Sichuan pepper, elemi and patchouli.

Ambroxan, in particular, is known to give fragrances “longevity and wake” and is frequently used in luxury fragrances, said Virginia Bonofiglio, cosmetics and fragrance marketing program manager at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Many saw the new Sauvage as Dior’s answer to the long-standing success of Bleu de Chanel.

At its launch, the French house marked the occasion of its first new men’s fragrance since 2008 with a splashy campaign featuring Depp, whom Dior has called “an icon of contemporary manhood.” This campaign also lived in installations in department stores.

“They marketed it really beautifully in the store itself,” said Linda Levy, president of the Fragrance Foundation, who at the time worked as group vice president for fragrance at Macy’s. “I remember everyone selling it was wearing the blue sunglasses that Johnny Depp wore in the ad… It was the biggest fragrance launch in Macy’s history that season.”

In the years that followed, Dior continued to invest in Sauvage pole positions in multi-brand stores and duty-free centers, often building jet-black displays dedicated to the fragrance.

The line is a priority for parent company LVMH, which said in its 2021 annual report presentation that it intended to “focus on developing Parfums Christian Dior in harmony with couture”. Led by designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Kim Jones, Christian Dior Couture is bigger than ever and the group is looking to strengthen marketing synergies between the two units.

LVMH’s operational investments in perfumes and cosmetics reached 290 million euros in 2021, compared to 280 million euros in 2020 but down from 378 million euros in 2019, according to the company’s annual report. . These millions of investments – in products, marketing and retail presence – have made Dior’s fragrances “much more integrated [into the brand]”Serdari said.

Millions in the marketing machine

Although fragrance brands face greater competition from niche players, smaller brands cannot outspend Dior.

Year-to-date, Dior has spent approximately $3.4 million on traditional TV ads in the United States, third in overall spending in the fragrance category compared to Chanel ($9.5 million ) and Giorgio Armani Fragrances ($4.5 million), according to iSpot. tv, a company that measures and analyzes the value of advertisements. He also continues to spend on major outdoor advertising campaigns for Sauvage in cities like New York and Paris.

The French house hired Depp in 2015 to embody the new fragrance Sauvage, a role he continued, a common practice in luxury perfume. Charlize Theron, for example, has appeared in J’Adore Dior fragrance campaigns since 2004, while Keira Knightley has starred in Chanel campaigns for Coco Mademoiselle since the mid-19s.

“[Consumers are] buy these fragrances…because of the traction and the fame itself,” said Penny Coy, Vice President of Ulta.

Going all-in with a celebrity is a risky strategy, Serdari said, because consumers can swap the scent with the celebrity in question. Examples abound of risk-averse brands feeling the need to ditch a celebrity ambassador following a scandal – Christian Dior with Sharon Stone, Chanel with Kate Moss.

But in the perfume advertising sector, where brands have been gaining market share by hammering out the same message consistently for years, Dior seems to be betting that its ultra-recognizable partnership with Depp can withstand the current controversy (a precedent outcry over a Sauvage ad campaign featuring a Native American dancer quickly died down after Dior pulled the spot).

Dior has expanded its list of Sauvage ambassadors beyond Depp. They now include Paris Saint Germain’s Mbappé, fragrance blogger “Jeremy Fragrance” and actor Thomas Doherty, the latter of whom are already significant drivers of media value gained for Sauvage according to CreatorIQ/Tribe Dynamics. Dior’s Sauvage ambassadors outperformed Chanel’s Bleu de Chanel and YSL’s Y Eau de Toilette on social media in the first half of the year, though the line trailed Armani’s Acqua di Gio, the firm found.

Powerful formula

Although the fragrance industry is still heavily dependent on its ambitious advertising, the best-selling fragrances over time are also those with the most appealing formulas. “Marketing will bring the customer to the scent the first time,” Bonofiglio said. “The second time, it’s what’s in the bottle… that brings you back.”

Dior has gradually internalized a large part of its perfumery processes and carefully controls both the distribution of its scents and their creation and manufacture. This contrasts with many brands whose perfumes are distributed by licensees like L’Oréal and Coty, and whose formulas belong to major perfume producers like the Swiss Givaudan.

In 2021, Dior released a new, more potent formulation of Sauvage, a $165 “Elixir,” “meeting customer expectations for a stronger, more potent signature,” the brand said. Stronger, more luxurious formulas are seen as essential for prestige brands to win back a younger clientele that has increasingly defected to niche brands in recent years.

The added benefit for brands is that these stronger formulas also tend to be more expensive. In today’s fragrance market, customers are willing to pay: Sales of private label fragrances from luxury brands rose 85% last year, compared to a 49% increase in the broader market, according to the firm of NDP advice.

“The guest is ready to invest and see a little more luxury,” Ulta’s Coy said.

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