The story of Commodity
Vivek Bhatia, creative director at London-based ico Design, discusses how a confused fragrance brand became a modern American perfumery.
Over the past decade, we’ve seen established brands in almost every sector face competition from new, agile, purpose-driven challengers. In the banking and finance sector, Monzo and Revolut made the bigger banks scramble to improve their mobile banking experiences. In health and wellness, brands like Burst have pushed Colgate and Oral B to rethink their approach to product development. And in fragrance, niche digital brands like Commodity have made artisanal fragrance more accessible, causing their more established competitors to rethink their communication strategies.
Yet, the rapid growth of any new brand comes with its own set of unique problems.
Commodity, for example, started as a Kickstarter campaign in 2014. They soon developed a cult online following with their anti-brand approach, focusing purely on making their fragrances as accessible as possible. And as consumers turned away from the cliched storytelling of the established brands, Commodity grew quickly.
This success meant the brand was bought and sold multiple times from 2016 to 2019. Yet it was in this process that the essence of the brand became muddled and confused due to the competing visions of different owners. Growth began to stagnate, and, before long, Commodity’s future was hanging in the balance.
In 2019, Commodity was acquired by Vicken Arslanian – an entrepreneur and owner of Europerfumes. For Vicken, it was an opportunity to develop a brand that could be a conduit for his own ideas about fragrance.
Before this could happen, he recognised that Commodity’s brand lacked clarity and personality. He approached us to help refocus and reposition the brand; to relaunch Commodity by amplifying a new core product philosophy to appeal to a global audience.
There were many creative challenges. How to extend the visual language without introducing superfluous elements? How to describe fragrances in a way that was easily understood? How to connect with a new audience without alienating an existing one? All of these became part of an ongoing creative strategy.
The first port of call was to address what Commodity stood for. As a nod to the past but firmly heading into the future, we refocused the brand around three core pillars: ethical, elemental, and atypical. This new strategic foundation gave the brand a strong focus and proposition. Under the banner of making the ‘exceptional accessible’ and removing the smoke and mirrors surrounding fragrance, the brand could re-engage its existing audience whilst appealing to a completely new one.
Vicken observed how different markets had different tastes. In the Middle East, people often wore bolder, heavier fragrances compared to those in Europe or Asia, also how consumers would adapt their fragrance depending on the occasion. He saw an opportunity not only to create different concentrations of the same fragrance, but to redefine how these were described, doing away with outdated and misunderstood industry terms such as ‘Eau de toilette’, ‘Absolute’ and ‘Extract’.
This led to the creation of ‘Scent Space’ – a new, simpler way of classifying fragrance concentrations as either Personal, Expressive or Bold, with Personal being the least potent, and Bold the strongest.
Another insight that gave the brand a point of difference was its positioning. The world of fragrance is dominated by European companies, but Commodity was very much an American-based brand. Being framed as ‘A Modern American Perfumery’ allowed Commodity to be authentic about its roots and storytelling, which manifests itself as ‘Commodity TV’, an ongoing docu-series where fans of the brand get to see behind the scenes.
What the rebrand of Commodity demonstrates is that the challenge of the sector is to align with new consumer behaviour, whereby people will be increasingly less inclined to visit a department store to find their favourite fragrance. While selecting online has its challenges, removing esoteric storytelling and replacing it with authentic ones yields new opportunities – one that Commodity is taking full advantage of.