What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


To follow up on my last post before I hurry off to another orchid show, this one in Seaside, Oregon, I’d like to leave you with another one of the elephants in the room that I started parading a while back. This elephant is advertising. As you may have guessed, the psychology of advertising is a pet topic of mine. I think about it, I analyze it, but I am still in a quandary as to how to apply it effectively in my own fragrance marketing. 

The question of the day is, “How little is too little and how much is too much?” There are a few perfume vendors, mostly retailers that carry multiple lines but also some individuals, that send me e-mails on a weekly basis, or even oftener. If the messages mostly contain information that I perceive as irrelevant to me, after a while I get annoyed and start marking them as “junk” so that they get banished to the great spam graveyard in the ether. If the company did send me something interesting and relevant, I’d never know it.

Obviously bombarding people constantly with e-mail, Tweets, Facebook invitations, or other such stuff isn’t a good strategy. But perfumers and other businesses do need to inform customers about new items and special offers, and just remind them to go browse from time to time. I think Luckyscent has it about right, at least for their purposes. They send an e-mail once a month or so with notifications about new items and a special offer sample pack. One of the growers that sells infant orchid plants sends out an e-mail with new items and special offers once every 2-3 months. More often than not, these e-mails spur me to order a Luckyscent sample pack or check out Carmela Orchids’ latest flask and plug lists and see if they have anything I want. My own goal is to send out newsletters on a quarterly basis, always with some sort of special offer.

Not enough visibility, and one slips through the cracks. Too much and it’s just annoying noise and people stop paying attention. It’s the delicate balancing act of trying to stay on the peak of the Wundt curve, that magical mathematical function that’s applicable to just about everything in life.

Originally developed by German psychologist Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) to quantify the relationship between motivation and performance on a task, among other things, the original inverted-U-shaped Wundt curve quantifies what Goldilocks always knew. However, it seems to have been largely forgotten by contemporary psychologists, despite its near-universal relevance. Too big isn’t good, too little isn’t good, it has to be just right. No motivation, and performance is poor – enter the slacker actor who didn’t memorize his lines. With too much at stake, enter the performer who is over-prepared but frozen by stage fright because he’s so eager to succeed, or lacklustre because he's sick and tired of the material. Music is perceived as most pleasant when it's somewhat familiar sounding, but not too familiar. There’s always some sweet spot where performance is optimal.

Of course that sweet spot is not only delicately poised atop two slippery slopes, it’s a moving target because it’s different depending on circumstances and the intended audience. What do you think about frequency of fragrance advertising? What induces you to check out a website or make a purchase? What turns you off? 

[Elephant and Goldilocks graphics from Wikimedia] 


  1. Excellent post, and a topic I'm dealing with at the moment as I write my first business plan for my entrepreneur class that starts next week! You want to reach the people who will love and buy your products, but you don't want to be "the mosquito in the Taj Mahal" and annoy them to death. As in all things, moderation is key, and it's not an easy key to find!

    1. An entrepreneur class - how fun! What sort of people are taking the class, or do you know yet?

  2. Since I am in rabid consumption mode these days (by that I mean that right now I am more of a consumer than a creator) I can tell you exactly what motivates me to buy perfume and what makes me run in the other direction. All I really want is information about the perfume ingredients, the perfumer's take on the fragrance, the smallest bit about inspiration and one nice photo of anything related to the perfume.

    For me the biggest turn off with most perfume advertising is the excessive "romance". Too much art and too many videos, stories, poems and music really bother me. In regard to the cultural content, more often than not, I have been there and done that so many times that I find almost all cultural references to be at best boring and at worst sophomoric (maybe I am a snob). Reminds me of the days, long ago, when, as a jewelry salesperson I had to "romance the stone". I hated doing that then and I hate seeing it done now. I would much rather have the chemistry than the romance...but then again, I am old and I suppose a younger audience would actually like all the schmaltz. I am inspired by perfume to create other things but I don't consider that a part of advertising, just a reaction to scent. Gail

  3. Gail, I'm totally with you on hating the trite images and allusions to generic "romance" and "sexiness" that's so common in perfume ads. I'm also put off by "descriptions" of perfumes that are just a fantasy story and have nothing at all to do with the fragrance in question. I'm not so opposed to cultural references. After all, perfumers have to get their inspiration somewhere, and if it's Greek mythology, jazz standards, Picasso's paintings, or Gangnam style (I'm waiting for that one), it seems as valid as the beach at sunrise, the winter solstice, or flowering tuberoses. OOOh ... this is fodder for another post.

  4. I think quarterly might be a bit on the far side of the peak of the Wundt curve for me. I like seeing updated from my favorite perfumers every one to two months, and I love learning about what new fragrances are released or in the works, impressions and ideas about a particular aromatic you have been working with (I love reading about your adventures with different fragrant materials. Your discussion of the different labdanums really intrigued me! I still want to smell the green labdanum absolute!), and projects you are involved in (like the Devilscent project! How cool was that!). Those sort of things give a feeling of familiarity and shared experiences with the perfumer, and for me that definitely encourages me to return to that perfumer time and time again.

  5. Michael, It's good to know that some like updates every one to two months. That may be the magic timing, assuming there's something to report. I'm glad you like to read about my adventures with different materials, since that seems to have no end. The green labdanum was a lucky fluke, because when I reordered the same item from the same company, it turned out to be the standard brown kind. I still have some of the green and will keep on using it until it's gone, but then I'll have to "reformulate". This is one of the frustrating things about working with natural materials - they vary so much from one batch to another. In some cases it's comparable to different vintages of a given wine, but in other cases it's more like different wines of the same denomination from different places - e.g., cabernet sauvignon from different winemakers in California, Chile, or France.