Mugler’s new fragrance format: does the perfume brush have staying power in mainstream perfumery?

The latest from mainstream fragrance brand Thierry Mugler is a line of perfume brushes that are used to paint a scented gel on your pulse points. The line includes Mugler’s three bestselling scents – Alien, Angel and Aura – and follows last year’s world-first from Jo Malone, named Jo Loves. The latter contains a trademarked clear gel that dries on the skin “in seconds” and is marketed as a handy fragrance option for consumers on-the-go. The formula contains alcohol and works in a similar fashion to liquid perfume, by releasing top notes first, followed by middle and base notes.

In retrospect, the gel perfume brush was developed as an improved version of its fragranced powder-containing predecessor, an example of which is niche brand Byredo Kabuki’s line of brush-ons.

Having been taken on board by a mainstream brand, could the gel formulation provide a better chance for perfume brushes to enter the mass market? We ran a split-by-description steer showing Mugler’s new Angel perfuming brush to two unique subsets of fragrance using women, one described as a gel brush and the other – as powder brush:

The question consumers are presented with is “Would you buy this product?”, which causes a “yes” bias (acquiescence bias), i.e. much more consumers respond positively without necessarily being likely to buy the product, due to a psychological tendency to agree rather than reject. However, in this case we are interested in the difference between the two results, which is 3.2% in favour of the gel formulation. Despite not being statistically significant , this difference might be a signal to do further testing, and at least suggests that gel would not perform worse than powder.

It remains unclear how much influence this innovation will have on mainstream perfumery. Combined with the novel application method, how likely it is to disrupt the on-the-go/top-up fragrance market? To provide an answer, we ran a preference steer to female consumers who have confirmed in a Vypr demographic that they use fragrance as part of their personal care routine:

Nearly 80% of our panel had an exclusive preference, which shows a high level of confidence in consumers’ choices. Overall, there is a strong preference towards the old travel size versions. Angel’s 15ml bottle is a definite leader with over 44% of the exclusive preferences and 47% of all preferences. Being Mugler’s first perfume, launched in 1992, Angel is an established popular fragrance. Its perfume brush version also performed better than its Alien counterpart but only managed to attract 13.5% of exclusive preferences – more than three times less than the original travel size.

Alien’s original 15ml travel size attracted a tad over 20% of exclusive preferences, and its perfumed brush version failed to reach 8%. The ratio of preferences towards the bottle and brush, respectively, is similar to Angel’s – the original travel size product strongly outperforms the new option.

In an attempt to establish consumer’s motivation for leaving the perfume brushes behind, we launched a single answer steer to the same demographic subset of female fragrance users, asking them to select a most important feature of the Angel perfuming brush. The options in this steer represent the marketed characteristics of the new format, with the aim to establish which of these are most likely to trigger purchase decisions:

‘Travel size’ greatly outperformed the rest of the features, having gained more than 37% of responses. ‘Non-spill format’ was also a top pick, chosen by a fifth of the panel as most important. ‘None of these’ was the choice of another fifth of the panel, which highlights the existence of a large group of immediate rejectors. The remaining three features can be viewed as unimportant, having become top choices of relatively small subsets of consumers. ‘Precise brush application’ and ‘gel formula’, in particular, were seen as the most important by very small groups – less than 7% and 5%, respectively. This suggests that the most distinguished and innovative features of Mugler’s new format don’t work for consumers.

As a final step we ran an overt test showing our fragrance-using female demographic the travel size perfume and perfume brush, both from the Angel line-up, along with size and price:

As expected, the majority of female fragrance users opted for the 15ml perfume bottle, sold at £28. Along with being better value-for-money, the bottle is easily recognisable due to its unique shape and the fact that the original perfume has been on the market for 27 years. However, the perfuming brush also had a good level of acceptance – almost 27%, and slightly higher in the more mature 35-54 age segment (31.5%). Consumers in this age group are likely to have higher disposable incomes than their younger counterparts, and are, therefore, more open to try a pricier novel product. 

Despite this, based on the steers we ran, we think that Mugler’s new line of perfume brushes will struggle to overtake the traditional travel-size formulation. It could enjoy a moderate initial uptake, perhaps in travel retail and as a complimentary add-on to full-size Mugler perfumes. This success would be sourced from wealthier, middle-aged consumers, willing to experience novelty. In the long term Mugler’s perfume brush will have to outperform these expectations to avoid the fate of Mugler’s perfume pens, launched last year but now hard to find.

According to Nielsen, approximately 80-85% of new consumer goods launches fail. Vypr’s mission is to help brands prevent possible failures by providing the tool to quickly identify the risks and confront them throughout the stages of the innovation process—from initial concept testing to optimising price and product line assortment.