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Helping a global fragrance brand understand desire


One of the largest beauty and fragrance companies in the world were looking to relaunch an iconic fragrance. When first launched the fragrance had been a challenger brand, and had broken boundaries in marketing and communications. 30 years on there was a need to engage a new generation and replicate the success using an updated but largely similar approach: appeal to a younger generation by being rebellious and getting attention using shock tactics. 

This global organization needed to understand how in 2023 fragrance drives sexual attraction, sex appeal and intimate moments, while exploring and testing recommendations for new marketing concepts to ensure a successful relaunch. The challenge was perceptions of what is “sexy” and the role it plays in a young person’s life is hard to articulate consciously or through traditional research methods, key drivers are unconscious and subjective. The brand needed a nuanced understanding across sexualities and genders to ensure that any outcomes were rooted in an inclusive understanding of fragrance in modern youth. 


“This was not a typical project. We needed an agency that could make people feel comfortable, allow  people express their feelings, their emotions, talk about their needs beyond what is socially accepted or expected. Experienced qualitative researchers that could identify body language, identify different levels of authenticity beyond what people spontaneously are open to discuss what they are comfortable with what they are less comfortable with how to cushion themselves without making them feel uncomfortable”


Working with the global director of luxury fragrance brands in New York, Irrational Agency developed a qualitative research programme of “therapeutic interviews” with a broad age range of people that identified as cis, non-binary, gay and straight. This innovative cognitive approach to fieldwork allows us to approach sensitive topics empathetically, we share our stories and encourage respondents to share in turn. In order to engage with these communities, being objective and emotionally distant would have been met with walls. The therapeutic techniques allowed us to approach the interviews, not as researchers with a set of key questions they need to tick off, but as human beings engaging with others. The approach was nuanced, it required us to normalise what might otherwise be socially unacceptable behaviours such as wanting attention from others or smelling like sex. We considered pronouns, representation and assumed nothing. The approach needed to be more organic and conversational, and required a more fluid structure, while at the same time laying on implicit exercises, gamified choice scenarios, roleplay and projective techniques. 


“Irrational Agency embraced the complexity of the project without fear. We needed researchers that could use the right techniques to push through that first level of self exposure. This psychological background has been lost in many agencies, but we needed the ability to identify moments were people are sincere and honest and the Irrational team had the experience to provide this.” 


The research has been invaluable understanding how to update a brand fit and inclusive for today’s world and today’s youth. It allowed the brand to understand that today’s youth need emotion and connection, and the best ways to make young people feel close to the brand. Importantly the research stopped the development of an existing relaunch plan, one that would have taken the brand in the wrong direction and potentially alienated to target demographic. The insight provided by Irrational Agency gave the research team the materials to make an important call, and potentially save the brand millions of dollars. Now, new concepts are being developed with this research the cornerstone of any future relaunch plan. 


“Irrational Agency were flawless. A pleasure to work with, experts, great listeners, fearless. They created an intimate climate of trust with consumers, and were able to produce a diagnosis that was precise and sharp, with a strong rationality to take decisions.”

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