Marketing Challenges in the Middle Eastern Perfume Industry

During the 90s  companies such as Ajmal, Al Haramain Perfumes, Arabian Oud, and Rasasi established themselves in the UAE; making Dubai the hub of the perfume trade across Africa, Asia, & the Middle East. During that period, perfumers in Dubai created classics such as Night Dreams & Noorah that still outsell western iconics like Chanel°5, Cool Water, and Acqua di Gio, without any marketing.

The no-marketing approach worked well in the Middle East until the mid 2000’s when the global perfume industry began collaborating with celebrities to attract their wide fan bases. To appeal to the biggest audience, perfumers had to lower the cost of these celebrity perfumes. In their annual report of the perfume industry, the NDP group calculated that 99% of celebrity perfumes’ price are marked lower than the $75 market average.  To keep costs low, perfumers had to compromise somewhere.

They lower the concentration of the middle and the base notes, and increase the concentration of the top notes in celebrity branded perfumes. The higher concentration of the top note has customers believing that they bought a strong perfume, when in reality the lack of the middle and base notes has the perfume wear off quicker and lose its complexity.

European and American perfume companies are able to sell these low quality perfumes because they effectively leverage their brands, and highly skilled, well-funded marketing teams. Emirati perfumers on the other hand, who had never used or needed marketing, were suddenly playing the catch-up game.

While Chanel’s commercial blends their brand position, typeface, and history, Al Haramain’s commercial is a medley of disconnected ideas and images that does nothing to highlight the brand, or the product.

None of the local companies were in the top 5 list of recalled brands, according to a market survey by the Madison Group. Aided recall for the local brands was only 7%. Local companies do not have any brand position, even in their own markets. The Middle Eastern perfume industry spent the later part of the 2000’s adjusting to these new marketing challenges. But change was not easy. Being owned and operated by families these perfumeries faced many unique challenges.


  • Resistance to change. According to a managing director at BCG’s Dubai office, most of the companies are family-owned and still run by their founder(s). Having established & managed their companies for 30+ years, founders are adamant about doing things in their particular ways. Although, they have positioned themselves with claims, none of the companies have any brand strategies. And to be able to compete with the low-cost celebrity endorsed competition, branding is key.
  • Talent is being driven away by the lack of brand objectives. Without any direction to take the company in, employees cannot find a sense of purpose in their work for the perfume industry. Many workers prefer to just switch out of the industry. Even family members choose to leave the business and start their own perfume companies when they cannot find a direction to follow.
  • Being family-owned is the only brand image these companies have, and they are losing that as well. So, when family members leave the business or start their own, they seriously tarnish the only platform these companies were standing on. In addition to damaging the brand, new companies also take away customers. Middle Easterners do not separate the personal and professional; people only do business with people they like. Customers follow the business they have the deepest personal connection with, and this fragments the little brand image the original companies did have.



The solution for these problems is developing and following an effective brand strategy that not only takes market influences into consideration but is also deeply tied in with the values of the founders.

  1. The founders may not distinctly know the key brand attributes of their company so it’s necessary to help them identify their brand’s assets. However, it is important to let them have absolute control of the brand image, because modifications to the brand image that founders do not agree with will certainly be denied, even if the developments were made using market research.
  2. Once the brand’s assets and attributes are identified, create a brand platform from which the brand’s key attributes can be leveraged. This will also give a clear objective for people in the company; employees will feel a sense of purpose and stay with the company. So, as soon as a clear objective is established, set it in stone. Literally. Write it down, carve it into the walls of the office, and use that objective to guide all future business.
  3. Develop strategies to convey the brand. Make products that convey the brand. Discontinue products that don’t. Redesign retail outlets to exhibit the unified brand image. Cover all company cars with the brand’s colors. Communicate the brand using newspaper ads, radio ads, tv ads, billboards, brochures, etc. Sponsor events, give interviews, get news coverage, give awards, and receive awards to communicate the new brand.
  4. Acquire customer loyalty to the brand. Sell the brand, more than the product. Have promotions to attract new customers. Track customer behavior and reward them for buying into the brand. Give special discounts to repeat customers, or even a tiered loyalty program that rewards their business with prestige, or special access to new launches and deals.
  5. Create and support a marketing department.


Marketing Challenges in the Middle Eastern Perfume Industry

One Response

  1. Great Project!

    From my experience, Al-Haramain is the best: it is like the Mont Blanc of Perfume. I get compliments because the smell is so unique to occidental/oriental world. Its aroma is so distinct, royalty-like and potent.

    Once costumers try on this prestige/superior good, they can’t go back to cheap colognes.

    Andy June 4, 2013 at 6:39 am #

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