Value propositions are rarely so straightforward. Dogs, especially small ones in urban areas, have traditionally been the target of an occasional spritz of Chanel or Giorgio. These are hardly healthy. Human fragrances contain a high concentration of essential oils, impairing a dog’s sense of smell.
Les Poochs’ formulation supposedly makes a dog smell nice to humans, without interfering with the dog’s life. It contains essential oil and less alcohol, with vitamins like B5 added. While Raviol says the product has been extensively tested (“A dog will let you know if he doesn’t like it”), is it good for the dog? “Well,” Raviol notes, “he gets more lovin’ and more hugs; but it probably doesn’t do much for his love life.”
Consumers seem to buy the story. Les Poochs, which manufactures its scents in the south of France, sells millions of dollars worth of product each year. Its offering extends from fragrances to shampoos, natural organic dog treats, and “Pooch botanic extracts.” (It offers a “true left-handed” dog-grooming shear from Unikoto of Japan, which retails for $ 1,800. That price includes a “genuine alligator case with your color choice of black or cognac.”)
The company’s claim to fame was the 1987 introduction of the “first designer fragrance for dogs.” Before then, says Raviol, the world knew only of cheap spray colognes sold in pet shops for a few dollars. “Certainly nothing in crystal bottles, done up properly,” he says.
And what an introduction it was. The two flagship products were his-and-hers scents, dubbed “Le Pooch” and “La Pooch.” The former is “woodsy, with a green, spice note,” while the latter is a “light blend of lily-of-the-valley with hints of apple.” They launched at Bloomingdale’s in New York, where they had the third-highest sales per square foot of any fragrance sold there that year.
The ensuing seasons brought a line expansion that includes Pooch Puppy (a linden-blossom scent, for the “younger generation”), and the seasonal fragrances Pooch de Noël and Pooch d’Été (“a beautiful blend of spring florals, with hints of honey and moss”).
A glance at the perfume reveals packaging and branding problems as complex as those of any product intended for humans. The new VIP scent comes in a special four-ounce size, packaged in an elaborate crystal decanter and priced at $ 3,000. (Raviol is optimistic; he claims to sell out of the $ 500 bottles of Pooch de Noël each Christmas.)
The image of the product, from the website to the quality of packaging and marketing collateral, all reinforce the company’s upscale branding. The perfume’s design team is clearly targeting the sensibilities of the affluent consumer, and has appropriated the branding language of luxury goods to sell these canine products. Raviol treats his product as what the economists call a “Veblen good” (an anomaly where demand increases as price increases).
Les Poochs products are not sold in pet shops, but only in grooming salons. In maintaining the profile of its brand, the firm is rigorous in screening suitable retailers. “Few grooming salons deserve the right to sell it, but all dogs have the right to use it,” Raviol claims.
Overall Les Poochs scents are an interesting extension of the human luxury-goods category. Pets are viewed as surrogate children, as “one of the family.” And they have a distinctive marketing advantage over many of their human counterparts; the market can be developed in so many different ways, partly because the end-consumer here doesn’t really have a voice, aside from “woof.”
Buying luxury goods appeals to American consumers’ desire to demonstrate their love through purchasing. In fact, it could be argued that the whole system of dog pedigrees works the same as a brand. It is a guarantee of authenticity. The label of German shepherd is akin to that of the German Mercedes-Benz. It’s a brand, and all brands require cultivation and investment.
Reprinted with permission from Cosmetic/Personal Care Packaging, “Brand Matters: Tracking a Dog’s Scent,” March/April 2005, © 2005 Canon Communications, LLC.