Smell Sells

Molton Brown has become one of the UK’s more successful toiletries firms, selling upmarket smellies. They’re a warranted “Supplier of Toiletries” to Her Majesty The Queen – and just as importantly in our household, it’s the brand of choice for Mrs. Farr.

This is a good thing, because it means that I always have one idea for what to buy when a birthday or anniversary approaches. ‘Pink Pepperpod’ is the smell of choice, and I have to say it’s quite lovely. Mind you, at £18 for 300ml of body wash, it had better be good.

Pink Pepperpod. Highly recommended.

Pink Pepperpod: highly recommended.

That’s the interesting thing about cosmetics: it’s an industry where you know that the product is being made in quantities akin to a small brewery… and yet the end product is packaged and sold in such a way as to make you feel that the contents are more precious than unicorn spit. From my schooling as a manufacturing engineer, I know that most of any shower gel is water with an awful lot of salt dissolved in it. I know that toothpaste is mostly ground up rock, too. That’s not to say that the ‘clever’ part of blending ingredients to create the right flavour or scent isn’t very clever indeed. Even bleach can have as many as forty chemical ingredients added, simply for the purpose of making it smell as if it will kill germs.

Molton Brown won’t show you their manufacturing process. They were awarded BUAV certification in February 2013, showing that their products are free from animal testing… but other than that, we loyal customers aren’t really supposed to look behind the curtain. Interestingly, though, rival UK cosmetic manufacturer Lush do reveal how their products are made. For example…

Lush still command a moderately high price point: you’d pay £15.95 for 500g of ‘Olive Branch’ shower gel, for example… but their marketing and presentation are somewhat different to Molton Brown.

At the end of the day, whatever you choose, it’s going to be mostly water and salt, in a plastic bottle – although a recent item in the BBC News Magazine claims that solid bars of soap are more luxurious because “You can tie attractive bars of soap up in silk ribbons and present them as a gift to a loved one – the effect isn’t quite the same when you do this with a liquid dispenser.”

It’s interesting to be able to consider not just the packaging for a product, but the actual format that is employed, to deliver much the same result (being clean, and scented). There are a lot of options here: older readers might remember when toothpaste came as a solid block, in a tin…

Packaging and presentation are particularly important when you’re selling cosmetics, because you’re charging unicorn-spit prices for salty water, with chemicals added in a process that’s no more complicated than it is for the people manufacturing bleach… and that doesn’t leave much room in which to derive a unique selling proposition. Manufacturers need to schmooze their customer a little bit here.

Or not. Here’s my most recent consignment:

The complimentary ‘gift box’ was torn, and with its packing peanuts, didn’t exactly reek of luxury.

The complimentary gift box was torn, so I didn’t pass it on. Filled out with packing peanuts, it didn’t exactly reek of luxury anyway.

Crumpled delivery note. When I’m spending seventy quid on “salty water”, I generally expect it to at least appear to have been handled with care.

A crumpled delivery note. When I’m spending seventy quid on salty water I generally expect at least the appearance that my order has been handled with care.

It does smell nice, though.


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