Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What is going on with Flavors and Fragrances?

We know the world changes.  We know that the pace of change is accelerating.   This means that things are changing faster and faster.  It seems to happen at dizzying speeds.  Some changes are for the good.  Some changes are for the better but we might not actually realize it while it is happened.  Other changes make us shake our and wonder why?

I am wondering why about a relatively minor and subtle change that has happened to flavors and fragrances in everyday consumer products.  

This problem is much worse with fragrances.  Consider the humble air freshener.  Some time ago, in my youth, when I was growing up in Detroit the first aerosol air fresheners came out. The fragrances of these products had names that told me what to expect.  The names were Rose, Evergreen, and Vanilla.  Basically, you knew exactly what I was going to expect when I used the product.  It made sense.  It was easy.

Today?  That has changed.  One can still find Vanilla or Apple Cinnamon.  But, there are air fresheners today that are called Desert Blossom, Mountain Breeze, Spring Meadow, Tropical Rain, and other colorful and descriptive names.  They are lovely names but they evoke images more so than smells.  Even if they evoke smells, they do not have the olfactory foundation of the older simpler names.  What the heck is a Desert Breeze, er... Mountain Blossom, Tropical Thunder Breeze thing supposed to smell like.  They all kind of smell the same to me.  What if I liked one more than another, would I be able to remember it the next time I went to the store without writing it down.  Evergreen, Vanilla, or Apple Cinnamon were much easier in this regard.

Speaking of Vanilla, It is very hard to find anything that is just plain old Vanilla.  The word French seems to have wed itself to the lowly Vanilla.  Every edible thing is called French Vanilla.  Yet, it just tastes like Vanilla.  What gives?  Am I supposed to enjoy it more because it is called French Fricking Vanilla?  Am I paying more because it is the more high brow French Vanilla than the proletariat run of the mill plain old Vanilla?  What do I care?  I do not really like Vanilla all that much.

The world is even more bizarre in the world of underarm fragrances.  Old Spice has fragrances called Denali, Cyprus, Fiji, Komodo, Matterhorn, After Hours, Pure Sport, Aqua Reef, and Swagger.  Huh?  Mennen has Momentum, Game Time, Cool Fusion, and Fresh Rush.  I have smelled these.  They all smell the same.

Fragrances have always been different than flavors but even that is changing.  Consider the new brands of gums like 5 from Wrigley.  Consider some of these flavors and tell me what they are supposed to taste like:  Cobalt, Rain, and Elixir.  Cobalt sounds like it should be crunchy or radioactive or something.  It does not sound all that appetizing.  Rain does sound relaxing but what taste does it evoke?  Elixir sounds mysterious and very promising.  The word makes me think that perhaps the gum would do something magical and powerful if I were to chew it.  No product named Elixir could ever live up to that expectation; no matter how slick and well funded the advertising is.

For 19 years I worked for two different consumer products company.   One of them made a popular hand dish washing liquid called Palmolive.  Earlier this century they came out with a line extension of products very brightly colored with names Mountain This, Desert That, and Meadow Something or Other.  The colors of the liquid were mountain pinkish, desert kind of golden, and meadow greenesque.  They all smelled “flowery” to me.  I suspected consumers and shoppers would buy more on color than anything else as the colors were the most differentiating part of the variants.

But, I am not in marketing.  What do I really know about such things?  They claim to have done research.  Have they really captured the voice of the consumer or more so the voice of the VP of Marketing who just inherently “knows” what consumers really want?  I have been in meetings where Presidents, VPs, and COOs simply override research simply because they believe they are smarter than everyone else by virtue of their position.  I have been in meetings were the marketing and science types got each other all hyped on whatever cool thing they were doing and pitching.

Another possibility as to why this all confuses and bothers me so is that I am just old. I am no longer with it or hip or hep or cool.  (There are those that could make a good case that I was never any of these things but that would be a subject for another blog.)  I just may be out of touch and Desert Dream or Mountain Mist should mean something to me and maybe means something to the teens and twenties who they are created for and marketed to.  I am sure age is also has deteriorated my sense of smell and that may simply be why Rain Forest, Sky Thunder, and Tropical Breeze all smell “flowery” and indistinguishable to me.

That about sums it all up.  I never have really understood or appreciated marketing.  I am an old fogey who has a diminished sense of smell and taste.  So, I should just stop worrying about what I don’t understand and cannot distinguish between.  After all it is just deodorant, chewing gum, and dish washing liquid.  Why worry about it?

And yet, on a whim I went to the Palmolive dish washing web site to see what the offerings of dish washing liquids were called these days 5-6 years after the fact.  The have a line called Aroma Sensations with just two variants:  Lavender and Fresh Green Apple.  Gee... even I know what these should smell like.  And guess what else?  The Lavender liquid was Lavender colored and the Fresh Green Apple liquid was the color of, well, a Fresh Green Apple.

Maybe I ain’t so stupid after all...

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