Dior Sauvage: Smells Like Trouble

It was Dior’s first new cologne launch in a decade. Introduced in 2015 with a campaign fronted by Johnny Depp, it was destined to be a blockbuster, much like one of the Hollywood icon’s films.

The campaign was struck by unfortunate timing though, as it came hot on the heels of Depp’s divorce settlement with actress Amber Heard. The long and bitter divorce was tabloid fodder as Heard had made allegations of domestic abuse against Depp, who flatly denied the charges. Despite the eventual settlement, people took to Twitter to call Dior’s ad “tasteless” and “tone-deaf”. 

A couple years later, Depp was embroiled in another lawsuit with his former business managers. 

However, the spate of bad publicity associated with its ambassador did not seem to throw customers off the scent.

In fact, it has gone on to become one of the world’s best-selling fragrances. According to GQ, Sauvage has overtaken Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle as the UK’s most popular scent. No mean feat, considering the women’s scent market in the country is 50% bigger than the men’s. It was even one of only two product lines credited for the momentum of luxury giant LVMH’s €6.08 billion perfumes and cosmetics business group in its most recent financial report.

Latest controversy

In August, Dior faced yet another backlash following the launch of its latest ad campaign with Depp. 

This time, it was widely criticized not for the off-screen antics of its spokesperson – but for cultural appropriation and insensitivity in the way it portrayed Native Americans in its 60-second commercial. The French fashion house promptly pulled the plug on the campaign. 

It is unclear how Dior will continue promoting the line now that the ad has been yanked right before the critical holiday season. But some say the ongoing debate on social media may be even good for sales since it keeps the product in the spotlight. Depp has defended the video, while Dior released statements about how the ad was made in consultation with the non-profit, Americans for Indian Opportunity.

The continued momentum of LVMH’s perfumes business hinges on the performance of flagship brands like Dior. According to a recent report by Morgan Stanley, Dior entered the realm of the mega brands in 2018, becoming luxury’s sixth player to attain sales over €5 billion. But the most interesting fact in the report was that over a third of Dior’s sales are derived exclusively from – you guessed it – cosmetics and fragrances.

So can Sauvage continue to be a key sales driver for Dior’s fragrances portfolio?

Running out of steam?

To forecast the performance of Sauvage, we took a look at our proprietary dataset tracking daily (anonymized) sales of luxury cosmetics and fragrances. And what we uncovered in our data tells a different story – it seems Sauvage sales have been slipping on key occasions before the latest controversy even erupted.

Some of the key moments for fragrance sales are around Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas Day, so we focused on those periods. While sales of Sauvage around Valentine’s Day have seen year-on-year (YOY) growth every year since 2016, they declined for the first time this year. Father’s Day sales were even more dismal this year. 

In fact, YOY growth has turned negative. After a steep climb in recent years that peaked in early 2018, it appears Sauvage has lost some of its earlier momentum. It could also be a sign that Sauvage is on the wane, somewhat like Depp’s career…

Perhaps the new campaign was meant to reignite interest and revitalize sales. Now that has been scrapped, how will Sauvage do this holiday season? And more importantly, does Sauvage still hold the key to the long-term growth of Dior? 

Only time – and data – will tell.

Learn more about our luxury cosmetics and fragrances dataset here.