Flankers: Marketing genius or lacking creativity?

The fragrance world is rife with similarly-named products, or flankers to the original scent. But are they ‘clever marketing’ or ‘creatively bereft’?

The fragrance world is rife with similarly-named products, or flankers to the original scent. But are they 'clever marketing' or 'creatively bereft'?

Flankers: Marketing genius or lacking creativity?

 Flankers: Marketing genius or lacking creativity?Anyone who has collected , purchased, or even seen fragrances for more than a few moments has encountered what is known in the industry as a ‘flanker’. Even if you don’t know the term, you know the concept: Taking the name of a successful brand or product and reapplying it to another product to increase visibility or add to selection. It builds on the success of a brand or franchise and exists mostly to support the growth or sales of that product.  If you aren’t quite sure of the real-world application of this, I’ll show some examples of this using several obvious but relevant examples of fragrances with multiple flankers.

  • Thierry Mugler’s A*Men. This has spawned roughly eleven (11) different variations of the scent, product name, or brand since the original product was released in 1996. Coffee, malt, tobacco, leather, and a few other variations have met with the original along the way, been bottled in look-alike packaging and retailed in some form over the past several years, some as limited editions.
  • Christian Dior’s Fahrenheit. The 1988 original and iconic fragrance has met with six (6) different variants over the past 20+ years, three of which were limited “summer” editions, two were lighter/cooler/fresher renditions, and one more an attempt to capitalize on the incense/Oud craze without much commercial success.

The list goes on, and there are obvious pros and cons to the practice depending on whether you’re a fan of the original scent or a marketer looking to capitalize on a successful franchise. But does the practice make sense to the consumer? Is it truly meaningful?

First, let’s look at the biggest practitioners: Designer fragrance houses. Consider the following:

The largest costs in the development of a fragrance aren’t the raw components, nor are they the salaries of the perfumers or even the packaging involved. The real cost of launching a scent is in the marketing, distribution, and sale of the fragrance. Those that sell very well reap the benefits and get a larger share of very limited retailer shelf-space in major department stores. And while there are perhaps thousands of perfumes that are on the market (past or present), there is only a limited amount of shelf space for any retailer to display and stock those, so a retailer such as Macys or Lord & Taylor will want to devote that space to something that has a strong chance of selling well.

Designers, as a result, aren’t about to take many chances since a marketing campaign for a fragrance can figure into the millions of dollars to launch (see our recent article on Brad Pitt and Chanel No. 5). Moreover, people recognize a name and are more willing to relate to it. Take the case of Burberry and its line of fashions and fragrances. People recognize the familiar plaid pattern used to adorn and identify its products as a trademark of the brand. What’s actually in the box or bottle is a secondary item once a consumer has developed a level of brand loyalty, making it more likely that the consumer will purchase something else from the name or brand.  So it goes with a flanker. It’s an easy and perhaps less-risky way of getting a product to market and adopted by the consumer. Give the product a name — say “Burberry Sport” or “Burberry Luxe” or perhaps “Burberry Royal” and it’s more likely to sell than something not associated with the brand.

AMens 300x185 Flankers: Marketing genius or lacking creativity?

The same goes with the earlier example of Thierry Mugler’s A*Men. Rather than gamble with a completely new name — say “Velvet Rope” for the sake of argument — it’s much easier to associate to the shopper’s existing interest in another fragrance by offering something slightly different using a familiar name and familiar packaging. The equivalent of “If you like this, we think you’ll love our new variation on a theme”. Voila! A flanker is born.

nd.4134 Flankers: Marketing genius or lacking creativity?The reality? There aren’t many cases where a flanker is actually superior to the original on which its marketing is based. Dior has done this with two very iconic and memorable scents: Kouros and Fahrenheit. Both are instantly recognizable for what they are, unmistakably so. They’ve changed only slightly over time but have kept the overall concept through every iteration such that the differences aren’t perceptible to the average consumer. But both have introduced flankers that have little to do with their originals, Fahrenheit introducing a lighter more citrus-infused scent known as Fahrenheit Summer that bares little resemblance to the original. The attempt is almost transparent in its effort to capitalize on name recognition and drive traffic based on only the strength of the Fahrenheit name.

So are flankers ‘clever marketing’ or ‘creatively bereft’?

The short answer is…both. Flankers are usually the result of a marketing department unwilling to bet the ranch that a completely new name will resonate with customers. The result? Try the new fragrance in a similar package, variation of a known name, and hope for the best. They’re also the result of retailers unwilling to gamble on an unknown product being that next A*Men or Fahrenheit, or devoting significant display space for showcasing it. People recognize a name. They might recognize a bottle design if it’s unique. And they might be enticed to purchase if there’s something else on offer that helps seal the deal (gift with purchase). But more often than not, something becomes a flanker because the marketers, perfumers, and retailers already know that it’s not going to be around all that long or it isn’t the next “breakthrough” product.

What’s Scentrist’s view?

Flankers are usually crap. Period. Save for something such as a “Concentree” or “Intense” version of a scent — usually a higher concentration (EDP vs. EDT) or stronger focus on core elements — a consumer will generally find a flanker to be just another way of marketing a product that isn’t strong enough to stand on its own. It exists mainly to remind people of the main product or to support the sale of that product. My personal collection doesn’t contain a single flanker product, in fact.

In other words, if you liked Fahrenheit or A*Men, that’s what you’ll want to continue purchasing, not the similarly-named product that exists solely to either prop-up or be propped-up by the original. In reality, most people won’t go out and purchase every flanker to an original because of the name or to simply add to their collection.


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About Andrew Buck

Andrew Buck is the editor-in-chief of Scentrist.com, and a lifelong appreciator and aficionado of fragrance. He's also the author "(Not) PMO-in-a-Can", a practitioner's perspective on project management, in addition to several articles on the topic. When not writing or discovering new scents, he is a technology manager in New York's Wall Street financial sector. You can read more about him on the "About" page, or say hi to him on Twitter @scentrist.