Slowly picking up the scent

Global perfume sales have risen, but some nationalities are keener than others to splash on the cologne. Advertisers must focus on such variations

Perfume and aftershave have long been a favourite of Christmas shoppers and as the festive period gets into full swing, every commercial break, newspaper and magazine will be packed with ads for fragrances.

Globally, the fragrance industry has experienced tremendous growth in the past ten years, but it is still not well established the world over – as recent data from TGI shows, while revealing some interesting regional variations.

European women are particularly big fans of fragrances, with 94 per cent of Spanish women using perfume. Similar penetration levels are seen in France, Germany and the UK. Although European men are slightly less likely to use fragrance, the penetration figures are still high. At least eight out of ten men in Spain and seven out of ten men in the UK and France use aftershave or a form of male fragrance.

Interestingly, the levels of fragrance use fall dramatically outside Europe, in countries such as China and Japan, where just one in four women and less than one in ten men uses them.

There is a huge opportunity for perfume brands to increase their penetration in these two markets, particularly as consumers in these countries are increasingly fond of international brands.

This assumption is supported by TGI data which shows that more than 50 per cent of consumers in China agree that they would use a famous brand to improve their image. It is also interesting to note that there is a visible tendency for Chinese consumers to buy fine fragrances as gifts for others, as 43 per cent of users stated that they received their fragrance as a gift.

In Italy, Israel, Romania and Slovenia, men are more likely than women to use fragrances. In Italy, 83 per cent of men use fragrances, but only 72 per cent of Italian women wear perfume. Interestingly, the data also shows that 65 per cent of Italian men believe that it is important to be attractive to the opposite sex compared with just 59 per cent of Italian women.

Saudi Arabia and the US both have room for significant growth in the male fragrance market. While 84 per cent of Saudi women use perfume, just 53 per cent of Saudi men use aftershave/male fragrance. In the US, 79 per cent of women are fragrance users against 57 per cent of men. In fact, only seven per cent of American men say that they “can’t resist expensive cologne”.

A clear division emerges between men and women when it comes to heavy fragrance users – those who apply their fragrance more than once a day. Regardless of the general numbers of men and women using fragrance, women use fragrance most regularly.

For instance, in the UK, 55 per cent of women claim to use fragrance once a day or more compared with just 33 per cent of men. In France, where 73 per cent of women are heavy fragrance users compared with 40 per cent of men, the division is even more evident. This could be attributed to the high volume of fragrance marketing that is targeted at female consumers. This is beginning to change, but Christmas remains the most intensive period of male-oriented marketing activity.

Even in a country such as Romania, where a far higher percentage of men use fragrance than women, it is women who use it in greater quantities. The data shows that 46 per cent of Romanian women apply a fragrance once a day or more, compared with just 29 per cent of men. The big challenge facing the industry here is to increase usage among male consumers.

An interesting picture of the global market emerges when looking at the age breakdown of consumers in the top markets. In the UK, Germany, Spain and Sweden, it is clearly the youngest age groups that are most likely to use fragrance. In Spain, for instance, a massive 98 per cent of women aged 18 to 24 use perfume. In Germany, where 94 per cent of women use perfume, 25- to 34-year-old women are the biggest consumers. In the UK, age seems to have a particularly large impact on the numbers of male fragrance consumers. Whereas 84 per cent of 18- to 24-year-old British men use fragrances, just 60 per cent of those aged 55 and over claim to use them.

The fragrance market in France is unique. For both men and women, it is consumers in the 45- to 54-year-old age bracket that are the biggest fragrance users. The situation in the US is also interesting where age has little impact on female consumers. However, among American men the biggest consumers of aftershave/male fragrance are those aged 55 and over.

As the global fragrance industry evolves, it becomes more vital for brand owners to understand the way in which consumer behaviour differs from country to country. Those advertisers that succeed in retaining existing customers and increasing their use of fragrances, as well as attracting emerging consumer groups, will win through this Christmas and beyond.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here