It’s strange to hear a distinguished actor with 30 years of Hollywood paycheques say that he can’t afford something, but Richard E. Grant – both Withnail and the creator of Jack Perfume in equal measure – has “no budget for advertising” when it comes to marketing his unisex scent.
“I’m a startup business and so I relied entirely on magazine editorial when [Jack Perfume] launched, and subsequently on social media – on Instagram and Twitter – every single day,” Grant told The Drum. “I know from the interaction I have on my Twitter account that that’s how I do business.”
Advertising veterans may scoff at this approach, and other startup perfumers may roll their eyes at a celebrity’s easy ability to cut through the market on earned and owned media alone. But so far his plan, if there is one, seems to have worked.
The original Jack, designed to smell “like sex in a bottle”, launched in 2014 and garnered a heap of press from the likes of Vogue, The Telegraph and Tatler. “Oh dear, you think. Not another celebrity scent,” began the latter’s About Town nib on the perfume, before going on to tell the story that Grant has told probably hundreds of times – that it’s a childhood dream to create a scent, that he’s always been led with his nose, and that it was handbag designer Anya Hindmarch who made him think seriously about launching his own perfume brand when she found him with his “nose in Gardenia bush while holidaying in the Caribbean”.
It’s these kind of whimsical, well-told, A-list tales that provide Jack with what every marketer wants but rarely has in a brand: a unique back story rich in purpose and passion.
And Grant is in no danger of letting this die; he still has palpable love for what he’s doing. Now with two other perfumes in the collection – Jack Covent Garden and Jack Piccadilly 69 – he reels off their ingredients with no hesitation, and even handles the brand’s social media strategy himself.
“If I reply to a customer almost nine times out of 10 they will say: ‘Is this really you?’” he said. “And it is me! I literally run my business with my daughter…and there is nobody else apart from where it’s made in a factory in Somerset. [It’s about] that authenticity…over the last three years people have accepted that there’s no bullshit involved. It is what it is.”
There’s no bullshit involved in Jack’s funding story either. Grant has never smoked or drunk so he investigated how much he’d saved from abstaining his whole life. He allowed himself to invest that figure into the startup, and was in the black after three months.
Jack is “quintessentially” British, packaged at home in red, made with notes of clove, nutmeg, tobacco and marijuana and fittingly stocked in Liberty London and Fortnum & Mason. In some respects this unashamed Britishness, as well as Jack’s tiny team, makes it difficult to see how and where the brand will expand further. But it’s also likely that expansion isn’t top of mind for Grant: this is the epitome of a non-frivolous, workable passion project.
“If you are an actor, you’re essentially a hand for hire,” he said. “You have no control over [making a film], other than to say: ‘Yes, I’m doing this part’. Whereas if you know what every micron of cardboard has cost you and you’ve invested your own money and your own time and passion into it there’s no get out.
“It’s entirely your own responsibility and therefore your own success, if it comes to you."