Entertaining Statistics or Marketing Faux Pas de Deux

Try to remember what was the association that came to mind when you heard perfume name Swan Princess for the first time? Was it one of the images below? Or was it something else?

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While writing this post, I decided to survey my friends, relatives and co-workers. I asked them the same question but since most of them are “civilians” (©Tara) and they haven’t heard about this perfume before, I didn’t want to influence their opinion so I just asked for the associations based on the name, without showing them the pictures I chose for this post (actually, Barbie idea came from my co-worker).

Disclaimer: Since I used a sample of convenience (rather than a probability sample), results aren’t representative of any real trends. This is intended strictly for the entertainment purposes.

I split all of the respondents into two categories:

  • native Russian speakers with English as a second language
  • native English speakers and other native language speakers with English as a second language

The majority of the respondents in the first category (native Russian speakers) correctly guessed the association intended by creators:

The swan is a gracious bird which has been glorified in the folklore of many countries. I can’t say that we were inspired by a particular piece of art. There are many which leave you breathless, like Mikhail Vrubel‘s painting Swan Princess, which we chose to illustrate our creation.

Swan Princess by Vrubel

I’m not sure how much you’ve previously read on the topic so I’ll give a short summary. Pay close attention: this is not a trivial construction. Swan Princess is a painting (1900) by Mikhail Vrubel that depicts a character from the opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1899–1900) by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, which was based on the poem The Tale of Tsar Saltan, of His Son the Renowned and Mighty Bogatyr Prince Gvidon Saltanovich, and of the Beautiful Princess-Swan (1831) by Aleksandr Pushkin. Oh, and the painter’s wife – Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel (see photo below) – sang the role of the Swan Princess in the première of the opera.

Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel

I’m not surprised that Russian-speaking respondents picked up on the association: even though we all knew well the tale, Swan Princess (Tsarevna-Lebed) didn’t feel like a main character but it was the painting that was firmly connected to that name.

The most common association expressed by participants from the second category (native English speakers and non-Russian speakers) was Swan Lake – a ballet (1875–76) composed by Tchaikovsky. Other associations mentioned were movies and a TV show – Black Swan, Princess Bride, Barbie Swan Lake and Swans Crossings. One person mentioned a children’s book.

Not to waste such an opportunity, I also included a picture of the perfume and asked to guess just by the name and the packaging which age group is a Swan Princess’ target market.

Swan Princess by The Vagabond Prince

Since I didn’t suggest any age groups as possible choices, responses were highly dispersed. The range I got was from 8 to 85 years old with two peaks: 13-20 and 60+. Variations on “teenage girls” and “Grandmother” were mentioned several times each.

Probably ballet isn’t the worst association (Penhaligon’s and Les Parfums de Rosine recently went directly for it) but even in my small poll group there were many… less flattering associations. And with the packaging that says anything but “luxury niche perfume” it can’t be easy to sell $200 bottle of perfume for teenagers.

Why do I care? Why didn’t I just dismiss this release the way I do with most perfumes by which I wasn’t impressed? It’s simple: I did expect more from creators of Fragrantica and I feel disappointed. And I still can’t believe that they, out of all people, decided to launch their perfumes only in 100 ml bottles.

What about perfume? I know tastes differ but, in my opinion, Swan Princess is just boring. It’s not unpleasant. It’s not pleasant. It’s unremarkable. Which isn’t that surprising: as talented as Bertrand Duchaufour might be, nobody can create 10-20 masterpieces per year (and we’re talking only about official releases: who knows how many dictators’ daughters had urges to launch their own brands in those years…)

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27 thoughts on “Entertaining Statistics or Marketing Faux Pas de Deux

  1. I picked the Swan Lake association and indeed, I am not a native Russian speaker :-). Looking at the bottle, I would have thought that it was targeted to pre-teens whose parents saw it at a discount drug store and thought it looks nice for their darling daughter. The violet / purple color IS striking and I bet my 22-year old niece, whose favorite color is purple, would love to have this on her vanity.

    • I like purple and I really like the box and the bottle – just not for the luxury perfume.
      BTW, it fits well with the classic illustration for that Pushkin’s tale:
      Swan Princess by Bilbin

  2. The Swan Princess doesn’t mean all that much to me. I would associate Swan Lake, but thinking back, that might make sense when Olympian Oksana Baiyul (sp?) did he swan program and won the Gold. btw…didn’t she become a train wreck later on? Anyway…Happy Easter!

    • Thanks to you, I just watched that program. It was beautiful.
      Judging by what I just read (I wasn’t following her career), she’s been sober for many years but now she and her manager/husband are suing everybody left and right for defrauding Oksana during her prime years. Anyway… :)

  3. Interesting statistics post dear Undina. Were I asked about my association of Swan Princess, I would probably first say that it makes me think of Swan Lake ballet.
    Regarding Swan Priness – the perfume from The Vagabond Prince. I met Elena Knezevic as she was wandering around Esxence and her husband was at their brand booth. I didn’t even try to approach their stand since I disliked Enchanted Forest and didn’t expect to like the other two. And I just don’t like the design of their bottle (plus I hate round, ball-like caps!)

    • I completely understand the reasoning. And, in general, I didn’t get an impression that this brand cares much for bloggers’ opinion – so no love lost on both sides, probably.

      I actually like Enchanted Forest and would have bought a 30 ml bottle from the brand (even though I still think that the design isn’t the best for the high-end market). But 100 ml?! Well, since these aren’t the worst perfumes/designs/etc., I wish them luck.

  4. That is such a striking painting. Too bad the perfume didn’t measure up. I thought it sounded like a Vera Wang, I must admit. The packaging made me think teenage girl while the bottle made me think Grandmother, so very confusing.

    That copyright symbol did make me smile!

    Hope you’re having a good Easter break Undina.

    • I had fun while mocking-up that “Vera Vang” bottle.
      Maybe others will like the perfume more – then the bottle will not matter much. But so far I haven’t read a single positive review at any of the blogs I follow.

  5. Hi Undina. My immediate association with the name was the Swan Lake ballet. I quite agree with Tara’s assessment that the box looks like an appeal to preteen girls while the bottle looks grandmotherly. But it’s interesting: the way you presented your post – truthfully yet not cruelly, and in the entertaining way that you manage to enlighten a person – you actually have piqued my curiosity about this perfume and I’m going to look up the info on it. (I’m so behind the times these days in terms of perfume launches that I had no awareness about this perfume before your post.) You’ve made me wonder about the notes of the perfume and what the creators were trying to achieve with it, exactly.

    Happy Easter to you, btw!

    • Thank you, Suzanne.
      You see! Negative publicity is still publicity! :)

      I’m too behind … everything. When I read names of perfumes people do splits of in FB groups, I often see those brands for the first time. And, most often, I just keep going – I’m not even curious. But sometimes something attracts my attention. This perfume was one of those and I even bought a sample (which I don’t do too often nowadays).

  6. I could not read beyond the Swan Princess, Swan Lake and Tchaikovsky–too many visits to the Royal Opera House and the Barbican–richly detailed settings–then the music grips my heart–shuts down all my other senses.

    Now you have given perfume hope–a challenge to force my senses back to life. Thanks for the story, perfume references, and Russian art history spurs to explore.

    Forgive me if I am off subject–the music…

  7. My association was with the Swan Lake. I’m with Tara, I thought the packaging was for the teenagers and the bottle was too old-aged and old fashioned. I did try the sample though. The word “prosaic” came to my mind. I don’t mean it is bad, it has some prettiness to it and pleasant. Just nothing special for the price. At least, this one is not for me.

    Hope you are having a lovely Easter break. ;)

    • I see that we’re having a consensus here from non-Russian-speaking readers. Too bad I asked most of my Russian-speaking friends already – so I can’t get confirmation from that category.
      I think people would have been more forgiving about the packaging had the perfume been less… prosaic.

  8. Dear Undina, you make me crave a book of those Pushkin tales with these beautiful illustrations. My dad use to read some of the Russian fairy tales to me, but only the folklore ones, not these art ones.
    Swan Lake was my association, doesn’t it come from a fairy tale too? And as for the bottle, I think it probably looked amazing on the drawing board, the way it would look great as a drawing, but as a ‘print on bottle’- it does look a little cheap.
    I can understand your disappointment probably comes from many things, but this being released not only by fellow perfume lovers but also someone sharing a historic and cultural background with you (I think?), you might feel even stronger about this. I know I do, when Scandinavian perfume brands make average to meh ‘new niche’ products, I actually hate ‘meh’- and it’s becoming such a regular feeling these days.

    • Asali, you nailed it! :) I examine those creations somehow related to my background especially zealously and feel … almost offended (?) when they do not meet the highest standards.
      You’re correct about Swan Lake being based on a folk tail. But story there definitely isn’t the most appealing part. Actually, the same is true for Pushkin’s interpretation: the tale itself is rather primitive but poetry is beautiful.

  9. Undina, you always have the most interesting experiments or surveys going on! I’m another person who would’ve associated the name Swan Princess with Swan Lake. And I’d guess teenage girls for the target demographic, or maybe younger, maybe 10-11 year olds.

    I’m sorry the perfume was nothing special, but at least you got some interesting results here. And thank you for sharing the origin of the Swan Princess. That painting is stunning!

    • Thank you, Caitlin. When I can think of interesting information or an unexpected angle to the perfume story, I always want to share.

      When I was a child I was fascinated by this painting (which isn’t surprising: it’s a picture of a princess! :) )

  10. Hi Undina! Swan Lake here too – Tchaikovsky all the way. The bottle is interesting… I feel like the cap is rather unfitting though. I can’t tell who I would think it was geared toward though – it just looks like something you’d find in a knick knack antique shop. Hope you’ve been well!

    • Thank you, Sun. I’ve been fine but very busy – but you know how it happens.
      As I said, ballet isn’t a bad association, so perfume is safe in this aspect (though my readers might still be not too representative of the population out there). But the bottle and packaging seem to cause confusion. Hopefully, it won’t stop those who like the perfume (if they decide to try it despite the packaging).

  11. I’d associate the Swan Princess with Swan Lake but am a person who attended ballet classes for years- clumsy doer of barres still… so maybe that explains it. My 14 year old took one look at the Swan Princess packaging and mentioned My Little Pony- so there you go.

    • As a child I tried to take ballet classes too but wasn’t too successful. I compensated that by going to the theater. I think I saw Swan Lake at least three times at a theater and a couple more on TV. My Little Pony!!! You’re killing the perfume :)

  12. What an interesting set of views you gathered from the native Russian speakers and the rest of us. I am afraid that my associations with the name ‘Swan Princess’ would be very sketchy at best, and probably focus around Swan Lake or something vaguely Disneyish aimed at a tween market. So the overall results of your poll do not surprise me. The fact that this is another release by Fragrantica in association with BD had also passed me by, as so much seems to do in the perfume world at the moment, hehe. But I don’t mind, really. I am just not as tuned in to developments these days.

    • I was so focused on this release that was sure everybody else had noticed it as well :) But I like their first perfume (everything but the bottle size) and, as Asali noticed, the theme made me particularly partial (it’s an interesting alliteration, don’t you think?)

  13. Pingback: lebaB fo rewoT or Found in Translation | Undina's Looking Glass

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