A nose for business
How our fragrance experts create the scents you love – and the ingredients we use to make them
Estate agents tell sellers to brew fresh coffee before they show potential buyers around their home. A new-born baby’s smell can give busy parents reason to pause for just one more cuddle before work. And there’s a reason for both – it’s because smell is the most powerful of our five senses.
As Paula Campos, Skin Care Senior Fragrance Manager – aka ‘one of the noses at Unilever’ – reveals, “The sense of smell is most likely the closest linked to memories among all of our senses. For this reason, fragrance builds a strong connection, an emotional connection to an experience.”
Fragrance builds a strong connection, an emotional connection to an experience.
Paula has been a fragrance expert with Unilever for 11 years – but she’s been aware of her heightened sense of smell since childhood. “As a little girl I used to embarrass my parents so much,” she laughs. “When I’d visit other people’s houses, I’d be aware of a scent that maybe no one else could smell. As I grew older, this developed into a passion for fine fragrances. At university, I studied pharmacy and created personal care products using fragrances for the first time as the final part of my degree.”
Today Paula designs fragrances for some of our brands that consumers love and recognise. But that’s just one part of her role, the other is to educate consumers about the fragrances in our products and to show them that our fragrances meet the highest standards for consumer safety.
Ensuring our consumers have trust in our ingredients is not just part of internal protocol. We also believe in providing transparent information about what’s in our products to help people to choose the right product for them.
We already provide ingredient information about our home and personal care products in the US and Europe via the part of our website called ‘What’s in our Products’. The aim is to help consumers find out what goes into the products they love and ensure they choose the right products for them.
And we’re not stopping there. We are now enhancing this information by voluntarily disclosing fragrance ingredients included in individual products, down to 0.01% of the product formulation (100 parts per million).
You can find out more about some of the key ingredients that make up some of our best-selling fragrances here.
Paula believes fragrance brings an emotional connection to the consumer’s experience with a brand. “As a fragrance expert, I want to create a fragrance that speaks to the consumer and the more holistic the new product is, the better,” she explains.
“For example, if I were creating a scent for a fruity concept and the product ended up smelling super synthetic, that is most likely to turn people off. But if I get the fragrance right, it will be one more reason for people to actually buy it.”
Also key to this process are ingredients. “The combination of ingredients used is what is going to give fragrance a personality. It’s going to give you the product performance in terms of base coverage and strength during use and it’s going to give you that hook – that piece that you keep going back to or that you link to a certain brand.”
The exciting part of the job for Paula and her team is getting a brief to create a new fragrance. “I love the creativity that comes with taking a concept that belongs to a brand and bringing it to life. It’s really exciting when I design a fragrance and give it to the brand team for the first time and then hear them say ‘That’s just what we are looking for’.”
To start the process Paula and her team look at its positioning and its format. “If the product is a face wash, then we need to make sure it has a cleanliness cue to the fragrance, to ensure that it doesn’t smell so rich that it gives you the feeling that your skin hasn’t been cleaned,” she explains.
“If the aim of the product is to care for the skin then there needs to be a comforting piece in the back of the fragrance (for example, musk and creamy woody notes, such as sandalwood or vetiver) because people want to feel reassured that they are caring for their skin and take pleasure from having this fragrance on their skin for many hours,” Paula adds.
Coffee is a big trend in perfumery right now and Paula is already working on a limited edition fragrance experience which will come to market soon.
For fragrance experts such as Paula, it’s also important to understand trends and cultural relevance. “For example, coffee is a big trend in perfumery right now. Perfumers are exploring exquisite blends using the coffee scent and the allure of the coffee blossom. It is my job to help identify the relevant trends for our different brands and geographies.
“In the case of coffee, I have already selected a few different fragrance executions. One is leveraging coffee in a very trendy way for a limited edition and the other is a totally different fragrance expression using coffee to highlight the efficacy of the product, reinforcing the skincare benefit.”
She and her team also look at cultural drivers. “Most fragrances are global now, but sometimes you come across very specific cultural influences that we need to take into account,” she adds.
After that Paula’s trained nose comes into play. “To be a trained nose you have to develop an olfactive memory. It’s about smelling things and having the sensitivity to differentiate what you are smelling – for example does it have floral or citrus notes? And if floral, is it rose or jasmine? If citrus, is it bergamot or lime?
A fragrance expert needs to develop an olfactive memory, to differentiate what they are smelling and to know which parts of the fragrance, for example the citrus or floral notes, that they need to tell the perfumer to dial up or dial down.
“Olfactive memory is all about memorising the scents because when you smell fully formulated fragrance it helps to understand what pieces of the fragrances the perfumer needs to dial up or dial down in order to make sure if fits with the brand and the specific consumer in a market.”
The other trick is to ensure that your sense of smell doesn’t get desensitised. To do that, Paula simply smells her own skin. “I smell my forearm and that resets my nose so it’s a very nice trick. The only thing you need to be careful of is to not wear fragrance on your forearm because then it defeats the purpose.”
There is one other great perk of creating fragrances for Paula. That’s using her skills to create scents that give a consumer confidence. “When you put on a fragrance that you love, it can make you feel confident. It can make you feel beautiful, it can give you that little boost to make you feel ready to face the world. That is a great reward to give.”