Trailing a Scent : Does Age Affect Perfume Brand Loyalty?

Gilles Laurent, Professor of Marketing - February 15th, 2010
perfume bottle - Does Age Affect Perfume Brand Loyalty

What impact does a person’s age have on her purchasing habits? Gilles Laurent and Raphaëlle Lambert-Pandraud offer the beginnings of an answer with their studies on women’s choice of perfume. As they grow older, women remain loyal to their perfumes for a longer time, while younger women’s search for novelty makes them a less stable clientele. 

Laurent Gilles ©HEC Paris

Gilles Laurent has spent 35 years as a professor in HEC Paris’ Marketing department. He has published articles in all leading academic marketing journals. He was editor-in-chief (...)

Gilles Laurent and Raphaëlle Lambert-Pandraud (professor at ESCP Europe), specialists in consumer behavior and the statistical analysis of marketing problems, have been studying the impact of consumers’ age on their purchasing decisions for several years now. They have looked at the importance of this issue in various sectors, including new car purchases, choice of radio station, and voting in elections. Why study the perfume market in particular? The coexistence of perfumes that are decades old with the launch of hundreds of new perfumes each year on a single market makes it an excellent testing ground to study consumers’ brand fidelity as a function of their age. 


The two authors used two studies that examined French women’s perfume habits. The first relies on an Acxiom-Conso data database relating to the purchasing habits of the French population, which supplied information about the preferences of  130,500 perfume consumers. The second study was an analysis of the responses to a questionnaire given to 260 women as they exited a Nocibé perfume and beauty supplies store. The study’s goal was to understand women’s relationship to their perfume, and how it changes over time. The women were asked to indicate their approval or disagreement with statements such as “I like to try new perfumes” (taste for novelty), “I’m faithful to the perfumes I wore when I first started to go out” (nostalgia), and “I’d like to wind back the clock a few years” (regret about the past). The researchers set out to investigate the hypothetical importance of three factors: brand attachment, the quest for novelty, and nostalgia.


The two researchers observed that as women increase in age so does their preference for older perfume brands. Another important element of Laurent and Lamber-Pantraud’s findings is that young women tend to change perfumes often, whereas older consumers are more faithful. Fidelity to a perfume brand stabilizes with time. Does this lead to the conclusion that all young women are versatile, and that older women are automatically faithful in their purchasing choices? It’s not that simple, say the authors. They found a certain diversity in each age category: Certain young women are extremely faithful to one perfume, while there are older women who change perfumes regularly. Although, Gilles Laurent points out, “as women age, they tend to prefer older brands when they change perfumes.” This phenomenon explains the ongoing success of perfumes launched more than 50 years ago (Chanel No. 5, for example).


“Ads for perfume always feature young people, even for products with an older client base,” notes Gilles Laurent. Is this a good idea? The researchers note that according to their analysis, launching a new perfume aimed at relatively young consumers is very risky. And indeed, the tendency of young consumers to change brands means that successes are often fleeting. Winning over older consumers, in contrast—like those in the 40 to 60 age bracket—  is probably more profitable, because they are likely to remain faithful for longer. But is it possible to entice mature perfume users with new perfumes, even though on average they are more faithful to the brand they already use? Absolutely, reply Gilles Laurent and Raphaëlle Lambert-Pandraud. Their survey of women in perfume stores allowed them to evaluate the mean amount of time that women use a perfume in each age category. This ranges from2.4 years for women under 30, to 6.8 years for women between the ages of 31 and 49, 12 years for those between 50 and 64, and 23 years for over- 65s. Conclusion: the oldest women had not all chosen their perfume before the age of 30, and recruiting them when they are more mature is possible! Gilles Laurent explains, “For example, if you manage to recruit a 48-year-old perfume user, she will use your perfume for 12 years on average, whereas a 25-year-old statistically guarantees you sales for a shorter period—only two and a half years!”

Based on an interview with Gilles Laurent, and on the article “Why Do Older Consumers Buy Older Brands? The Role Of Attachment And Declining Innovativeness” (to appear in the Journal of Marketing ), co-authored with Raphaëlle Lambert-Pandraud.


In the context of an aging global population, theresults of this research can help to reframe marketing policies for perfumes,as well as for products or services in other sectors. The authors drawmarketers’ attention to the importance of incorporating the age of consumersinto their strategy. Gilles Laurent stresses the need to have product and brandportfolios that address a range of age categories as well as the value oftargeting middle or older age groups. The latter strategy will help maintainthe fidelity of current customers, while also drawing in new customers who,once convinced to switch, are highly likely to stay faithful.