Dave Corlett
15 November 2017

Us Brits just love to shop online. We spent £133bn in 2016, a record amount. Well, until the figures for 2017 are released and smash that out of the water.

Most of the products we buy can be visualised in some way before we click the ‘buy’ button. But fragrance is a different matter. And whilst we can’t predict what features the next MacBook Air will come with, a scent dispenser is unlikely to be among them.

So how do you sell a smell online? Our digital director Jake Xu shares his three top tips…


Traditional fragrance advertising rarely describes the key product feature: its smell. According to Jake, this is because the English language is simply terrible at describing odours.

“I read an interesting article in Wired a few years back,” he says. “It talked about the fact that many other languages and cultures are much better at describing smells. We’re generally quite poor at it.”

So if it can’t be smelt or described, the most powerful tool left is imagery. Using water to convey fresher smells, or flowers for floral scents, are the obvious ones. But there’s much more to it than this, says Jake.

“The visual experience doesn’t necessarily need to correspond to the product’s smell. Instead, it’s more about the audience. Think about who the product is targeting and their aspirations, and build the imagery around them. That goes for model choices too. Take Tom Ford. They’re great at using the right models and imagery to convey this kind of aspirational positioning.”

tom ford fragrance advertising

Online, this lifestyle-led visual approach can be extended into areas like video content. Molton Brown’s recent Coastal Cypress & Sea Fennel fragrance launch included a series of videos featuring adventurer Alastair Humphreys.

The #IntoTheUnchartered campaign painted the perfect picture for the brand’s target audience of adventurous outgoing men who identify with Alastair’s swashbuckling spirit.


These days, there are some nifty digital tools around to help consumers find the right products for their personal tastes and preferences.

However we don’t often see them used by fragrance brands, and Jake feels they might be missing a trick here.

“’Diagnostic tools’ ask users a series of questions, and use bespoke algorithms to select product recommendations based on the answers given,” he says.

“In theory, they can be tailored to any brand or retailer with a large range of products, or even a smaller range where different products are tailored to different customer personas or segments. The key is in the questions asked. These are typically multiple choice. For fragrance brands, this could be a combination of scent preferences, lifestyle choices, personality type and even personal aspirations.”

Jake’s team here at Ready have created several such diagnostic tools, including a particularly successful version for Soap & Glory’s skincare range.

soap and glory's skin diagnostic tool can also be used for fragrance marketing

“Soap & Glory have a highly engaged Facebook following, so we developed a Skin Diagnostic tool that would sit on their Facebook page. It was initially meant to be a temporary thing, but has been so successful at driving sales that it is now a permanent feature.”

With personalisation listed as one of the key challenges for marketeers this year, forward-thinking fragrance brands and retailers could certainly benefit from this approach.


Video, 360° visuals, augmented reality…the experience of purchasing online is more immersive than ever before. But for some people, there’s just no substitute for a physical experience – particularly when it comes to the scent of a fragrance.

Sampling is the happy middle ground. But simply churning out free samples willy nilly is both laborious and potentially wasteful.

One online retailer taking a novel approach to sampling is The Fragrance Shop. They offer a Try It First option for certain fragrances. The customer purchases the full bottle, which comes with a sample. If they like the sample, they keep the bottle. If not, they return it unopened and are refunded.

the fragrance shop's Try It First free sample offer

The Fragrance Shop also offers up to three free samples along with any purchase. This is a great way to tease out further purchase consideration, particularly if the customer is making their original purchase as a gift. “Oh go on then, I’ll treat myself as well!”

Jake adds that sampling can also form part of creative campaigns. This works especially well if there are a limited number of samples available.

“We recently created a digital content hub for the launch of Burt’s Bees’ new 100% natural lipstick,” he says. “One of the key product USPs is that it moisturises for up to eight hours. They had a batch of samples to give away, so we ran a competition on the hub featuring a clock counting down from eight hours to zero.

Users were invited to submit their details, and every eight hours we picked 100 winners to receive one of the samples. This meant the brand could capture valuable data and also create a buzz around the launch, as people told their friends how to enter the competition.”


For marketeers looking to overcome the challenge of how to market fragrances online, Jake’s advice is simple:

“It’s all about emotion. Users can’t experience the product itself. But the digital world can still do a powerful job of presenting to them how it can make them feel, and getting them excited about it. Fragrance advertising has historically been built on the emotion behind aspiration. With the technology behind them, digital channels can bring this emotion to life in a personal, engaging and visually rich way. And then use a little creative persuasion to drive the sale.”

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