|Note the 'Drinkaware' presence of cycle clips|
For anyone who just wants to know the topline findings from the focus group - as clients are wont to do with real life research exercises - skip straight to the end. For a blow by silly blow account of what went down, please read on...
I should state right off the bat that despite being a researcher by profession, this wasn't a focus group in any meaningful sense of the term. I was voicing my own opinion for one thing - occasionally even before I asked the others(!) (which as everyone knows is highly irregular behaviour in a market research exercise). But I did at least pose a few market research-type questions about the whole positioning and marketing of the brand before we got stuck into the business of sniffing proper.
Where would you expect to see this range displayed in store?
Aware of the unisex premise, the group puzzled over this question, as The Library of Fragrance range clearly falls between the two genders, so in theory needs a separate area. We concluded that it might have its own display in a prominent place where people might fall over it - not even necessarily in the perfume section as such.
What do you think of the bottle?
The men in the group were particularly exercised by this question, and leapt straight in with comments about things it reminded them of - none of which were perfume as it happened. Tony said 'nail varnish remover', while images of Windsor & Newton's range of artists' supplies immediately popped into both David and Jim's minds. Clare thought it looked like 'reed diffuser bottles'. I am of course familiar with many different styles of fragrance bottle, including smallish rectangular ones like these, and am greatly in favour of smaller formats. To the others in the group, however, it didn't really compute as a perfume bottle, partly down to the shape, but also the size. Jim said he would have expected a bottle of men's aftershave to be a lot bigger. On the other hand, it was deemed too bulky to be construed as a handbag-sized perfume. I still think it is great that someone is offering a 30ml size, so it will be interesting to see what Boots' customers make of it.
Because of the layout - with the three terms listed underneath one another - we weren't sure if 'Pick-Me-Up' was an adjective governing 'Cologne Spray' below, or the American equivalent of 'Cologne Spray'.
The eagle-eyed David (spot the artist!) noticed that on a couple of the bottles, the text below the fragrance name was in lower case and employed commas, while on most of the bottles it was capitalised, with full stops, making for a punchier, more abrupt style.
"Simple, subtle, singular scents.
Each day. Everywhere."
"Simple. Subtle. Singular Scents.
Each Day. Everywhere."
There was a strong preference for the lower case version, and the capitalisation of 'Day' in the bottle pictured above especially bothered people. 'It's a bit shouty', observed Jim.
Having discussed the packaging in a lot more depth than I was expecting to, it was time to start sampling the perfumes themselves. I had devised a handy map of a left and right hand and forearm. I thought that if everyone applied each fragrance to the same spot, we could critique them in an orderly sequence, as we would all know where to sniff. I was also assigned the role of presiding over the spraying, administering two sharp squirts to each person's skin to give as consistent results as possible. Nevertheless, there were considerable variances between group members in terms of how each perfume smelt.
So here is the feedback, in the order in which the scents were tested...
How did they all smell?
Only Clare (a major lover of the fig note in perfumery) and I recognised this as any part of a fig, and even Clare took a little while, though it ended up being her favourite of the bunch, and she took the bottle home with her. Here are a selection of comments:
Jim: 'If I sprayed this on in the dark, I would wonder what it was.' (Editor's note - Jim seemed rather preoccupied with darkness throughout the discussion, as you will see.)
David: 'This smells like the sort of varnish you used to be able to buy in the 60s, but can't get anymore.'
|Those really are meant to represent arms, not rolling pins|
This one initially proved more popular, and was considered to be 'more like a cologne'. It was variously described as 'pleasant', 'dry', 'orangey', 'citrusy' and 'quite sweet'. There was one comparison to 'lemon meringue'.
Jim: 'If I picked that up in the night and smelt it, I'd put the light on.' Praise indeed from Jim, the nocturnal operating, non-perfume wearer in our midst.
It was still shiny, however, and went quite indolic on several people's skin during the session, which put Tony right off. None of the men would wear this, but Clare - whose second favourite perfumery note is orange blossom - was happy to take this bottle home too.
|Clare and Tony perfectly executing the perfumista's salute|
Jim: 'Now I would expect this one to be very shiny!' It didn't disappoint.
Beyond that, Rain didn't smell like rain to anyone, but rather of mint and the pith of a satsuma. Clare couldn't smell anything at all to begin with, but her anosmia was suddenly broken by the satsuma reference, and - whether or not thanks to the power of suggestion, who can say? - she could just about smell a slight acerbic orangeness from that point onwards. David also got a bit of the Indian yoghurt dip with mint, raitha. This perfume was quickly renamed 'Satsuma', and on resniffing it much later, Tony pronounced it to be 'really quite nice', though nobody said they would wear it.
This is the perfume which people were most intrigued to try, and although everyone found the opening offputting (to put it mildly), it provoked a great deal of lively debate. Images came pouring out along the lines of 'wet leaves', 'wet moss', 'wet gardening', 'rotting leaf mould from leaves that you forgot to burn', 'dry rot', 'wet rot' and 'wet shed'.
Jim: 'It's the smell of taking up the floorboards and seeing what is really going on....'
David: 'Probing at the back of your shed...or sorting out your wood pile - you know there's going to be woodlice and wriggly things.'
Me: 'It's the smell of my Dad's old car coat that had been lying in his damp abandoned caravan for four years.'
Jim summed up the feelings of the group when he inquired: 'Do I want to smell of wet wood mould?' Much much later, when this earthy, patchouli(?) scent had quietened down, Tony said it was actually at a wearable point for a men's fragrance, however, in his view it had taken far too long to get there. This was the most challenging perfume in the selection and Thunderstorm was swiftly renamed 'Wet shed'.
Clare's immediate response on sniffing this was to say it would make a nice room fragrance for a kitchen. Fresh Ginger was generally considered pleasant, and was one of the scents that smelt most differently on different people's skin, with additional notes of 'lemon', 'sherbet', 'almonds', 'pear drops' and 'Dolly Mixtures'. Tony described it as 'ginger Edinburgh Rock', while David thought it a 'bit Christmassy', and also like some kind of fabric conditioner, in a good way. Jim said he would also have it in the house - as a room fragrance again - and probably more in winter.
GIN & TONIC
Gin & Tonic was unanimously pronounced to smell of shampoo or bubble bath. One of the men mentioned 'Matey', which led to a brief nostalgic digression about bath time products from our childhood. I got a hint of lime, and then remembered how soapy Jo Malone's French Lime Blossom is, which could be why we were 'reading' this scent as being more like a bodycare product than an astringent aperitif. There was no discernible juniper, for example. Much later, after it had softened considerably, Tony announced that he liked it and would be happy to wear it, whereupon he promptly copped for the bottle. Someone else thought it would make a pretty room scent for a bathroom.
At this point, Jim started to engage in a banned activity we had previously dubbed 'nose buffing', whereby you press your nose deeply into one scent, then drag it down to another scent location, thereby risking possible olfactory contamination. We watched as he slid his nose from Thunderstorm down to Gin & Tonic, before remarking: 'I am having a bath in the shed. Perhaps that is why the shed is damp...??'
Once again, this perfume one went on - and stayed - shiny. 'I'm way the shiniest I've ever been', mused Jim.
|Jim and David|
SEX ON THE BEACH
I requested this one from Clare the PR lady specifically on account of its titillating name, only to find to my chagrin that Sex on the Beach is a cocktail, and nothing at all to do with salt, sand in every interstice and scratchy marram grass. The general consensus was that this perfume smelt of sweets, ranging from that traditional favourite of 'sherbet lemon pomegranate' to 'rhubarb and custard' and generic 'boiled sweets'. The imagery then moved to 'powdered orange juice you used to get when we were kids', while I was reminded of the sweeter end of the J2O fruity mixer range.
People found this pleasant, but not something that a grown-up would wish to smell of. We judged it to be another possible contender as a room fragrance, though we could see it appealing as a perfume to young girls. At this point in the discussion, I mentioned how some US-based readers of Bonkers had talked about spraying Demeter scents on their sheets, which the group heard as 'sheep', prompting much merriment.
On first application, everyone got a big whoosh of vanilla, before the scent settled down into a distinctive amber groove. Jim admitted though that based on the name, he wouldn't have any preconception of how amber does smell. After the general consensus of the vanilla opening - and despite most people's recognition of amber as a perfumery note - this scent conjured up some quite contradictory images. Despite these differences, Amber proved to be my and David's favourite of the selection - David took a decant of this one home.
Tony: 'Middle Eastern incense; the souks of Baghdad; a belly dancer in Turkey...this is the sort of thing the sales assistants in the aiport at Dubai try to spray you with.'
David: 'Almonds, pepper, something a bit antiseptic - what they rub on you before they give you an injection? - or the kind of floor cleaner you add water to.' (Editor's note - he did really like this.)
Once everyone had tested all eight perfumes, Tony got up to get some more drinks. On his return, he announced brightly; 'So.... the bar lady liked Wet Shed, Amber, Sex on the Beach and Fig Leaf.' We commended him for gathering this bonus titbit of consumer feedback.
For anyone who has jumped to this part - or who would simply welcome some attempt at a synthesis of our very Singular Discussion, here are the Topline Findings (sorry, I am really not feeling these capitals...):
- Everyone found at least one scent out of the eight they said they would wear - except Jim, who doesn't wear aftershave anyway, but nevertheless went home with a decant of Fresh Ginger on the offchance that a cologne-wearing urge might randomly come over him (in the night, presumably...;) ).
- In general, the perfumes were seen as pretty straightforward and borderline functional - there were several suggestions that they might make good room scents.
- The perfumes smelt slightly different on each person's skin - nothing new there!
- Layering is very likely a good way to add depth and interest to these scents - especially as you can buy four 30ml bottles for the price of your average 50ml designer perfume.
|'Shiny, happy respondents'|
There was no time to layer on the night - people were arguably a bit punchdrunk by this point - and the notion provoked ribald comments along the lines of: 'Sex on a beach on top of a wet shed.' and 'Goodness, you'd be so shiny if you did that!'
As I write, however, I am wearing Orange Blossom + Amber, and Fresh Ginger + Amber, and both are rather pleasant with - just as you would expect - greater complexity than either scent on its own.
Let's keep the focus group going! If you have had your nose in one of these 'fragrant books'- whether as Demeter in the USA or under the new UK name of The Library of Fragrance - do let us know in the comments.
|Tony reviewing the right arm trio|