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Perfume Brand Seeks New Life Without Liz

May 09, 1998|DIANE SEO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NEW YORK — Will women want White Diamonds without Elizabeth Taylor pushing the rich floral perfume?

In an effort to revive the 7-year-old scent, manufacturer Elizabeth Arden last month launched an estimated $7-million print and television ad campaign, featuring Burt Reynolds, Kenny Rogers and actor Lorenzo Lamas, in time for Mother's Day.

Instead of Liz, the somewhat-faded male celebrities now are touting the fragrance to mature women. New pitchmen were selected in hopes of easing White Diamonds' exclusive association with Taylor. Plagued with a back injury and other health problems, Taylor can't promote the fragrance as she has in the past.

"What they're trying to do is give White Diamonds a bigger vision than just Ms. Taylor," said Annette Green, president of the Fragrance Foundation. "You can't just stay with one celebrity. You have to broaden the base of interest."

Market research made it clear that White Diamonds consumers wouldn't accept a new spokeswoman. To them, Liz is still an icon that a fresh, young face can't compete with, said Lorrie King, White Diamond's marketing manager.

Because Taylor's image remains strong among its 35-and-up consumers, White Diamonds chose men whom people might expect to be friends with Taylor, even though they are hardly A-list celebrities. Taylor personally selected Reynolds, Rogers and Lamas and plans to keep picking men to hawk her scent.

Elizabeth Arden sees Mother's Day as an ideal time to kick off its new advertising and marketing campaign, despite the fact that about 80% of all perfume sales are generated during the Christmas shopping season.

Last Mother's Day, White Diamonds' value gift set was the top seller in its category. To repeat that performance, White Diamonds this year is sponsoring a sweepstakes, awarding a diamond necklace at 700 stores across the country, including Macy's and Bloomingdale's.

"Mother's Day is a hugely important period for White Diamonds because White Diamonds is a gift-giving brand," said Ron Latham, Elizabeth Arden's executive vice president of global marketing. "Since mothers are often on the receiving end of gifts, Mother's Day is a period when White Diamonds often regains number one status in department stores across the country."

The problem with White Diamonds is that sales fall flat between Mother's Day and Christmas. Overall, sales have steadily declined since the scent's 1991 launch, which isn't unusual in the fickle perfume business, where few fragrances remain top sellers for more than a few years.

"It's unbelievable it's held up this long," said Suzanne Grayson, author of a Santa Barbara-based cosmetics marketing newsletter. "You would have thought it would have faded away considering all the other powerhouse launches. But it's still up there in the top 10. That's extraordinary."

With White Diamonds now ranked as the seventh top-selling women's prestige fragrance, Elizabeth Arden believes the brand could become as perennial as Chanel No. 5, with a little marketing help.

"This campaign is designed to firmly place White Diamonds as a classic," said Lorrie King, White Diamonds' marketing manager. "We're strongly stating that we're still here."

But Gabriella Zuckerman, a New York-based beauty marketing consultant, is skeptical.

"Although Elizabeth Taylor is an image that creates a great interest, I don't think it's a permanent interest," she said. "There is nothing about the fragrance or Elizabeth Taylor that will appeal to a younger market."

Like the fragrance itself, White Diamonds' endorsers are busy reworking their images.

Despite a messy public divorce from actress Loni Anderson and financial troubles, Reynolds recharged his career with last year's performance in "Boogie Nights," which earned him a supporting actor Oscar nomination. Lamas is set to star in a new television series this fall, while Rogers continues to release new country albums, despite numerous past legal troubles.

King said the men were selected because they do not stray far from Taylor's old-Hollywood image. Although White Diamonds wants younger consumers, its main focus is to re-attract the older women who might have left the brand, she said.

Each print ad shows a bottle of perfume and one of the men assuming a "come hither" glance. Lamas, for example, is posed with his head slightly cocked and sports an unmistakable 5 o'clock shadow. The copy quotes him as saying, "I never forget a woman in diamonds."

In the past, the White Diamonds commercials featured Taylor in glamorous settings. In one spot, she approaches men playing cards, throws her earrings on the table and says, "These have always brought me luck."

Taylor has introduced two other fragrances with Elizabeth Arden, Passion and Black Pearls. But Passion peaked in popularity after its 1987 launch and is no longer sold at fine department stores. Black Pearls was a sales dud from its 1996 debut.

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