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Innovation in the Air: Meet P&G Master Perfumer Rafael Trujillo

Thursday, November 1, 2018 2:23 pm EDT

If you’ve ever uncapped a bottle of Tide, you’ve experienced the work of Rafael Trujillo, the lead perfumer on the Original Tide scent. 

Rafael is one of 20 P&G perfumers worldwide who help us bring products to market with unique and memorable scents. And to give you an idea of just how elite this group is, our 20 perfumers represent 5% of the total number of perfumers in the world. A perfumer’s role in harnessing nostalgia and fueling an emotional connection with a product is critical to its success.

Rafael attributes his perfume-making affinity to his mother, who was a beauty and personal care product sales rep during his childhood. Growing up, Rafael would help her collect and pack the products—but not before he would open each shampoo and cologne bottle to smell what was inside. This seemingly insignificant task led to his lifelong curiosity about scents, and the memorable experiences they create around a product.

As a Master Perfumer, Trujillo explains that his work combines chemistry with the arts. First, he conceptualizes a scent in his head. Then, he puts together a collage of visual scenes that inspire the scent such as a couple having dinner on the Mediterranean; a man playing an old guitar, feeling the strings and smelling the wood; or a woman in a linen dress, walking by jasmine in the middle of the night.

Inventing "Clean"

Next, Rafael and a P&G team of perfume designers and evaluators go to work to create the recognizable new fragrance that millions will come to associate with the everyday experience of one of our products—a far more difficult task than it sounds. For example, a “clean” scent means something different to every person. So Rafael and his team travel the world and collect consumer feedback to conceptualize the scent. 

“When something is clean, it really means it has no scent,” he laughs. “But most consumers want a fragrance.”

In formulating the Original Tide scent, Rafael recalls home visits and interviews to define ‘clean.’ 

“It took a lot of research to understand the (Tide) consumer. We’ve learned what clean is for her—and what it is not!”

For being such painstaking work—and for having such a profound influence on product preference—the aromatic aspects of our products like Tide and Downy make up a very low percentage of the total product. But biologically, there’s a lot riding on that low percentage. 

Our sense of smell is the only one of our five senses connected to our limbic system, where memories and emotions reside. When we smell a fragrance, it is immediately processed in a part of the brain where our memories are tucked away. That’s why when we smell something like freshly-washed towels, or shampoo in the shower, we can sometimes feel transported to vivid memories.

“It’s our job as perfumers to find that emotional connection, and leverage this understanding of how fragrances are processed in the brain,” Rafael says.

Limitless Formulations to Create Icons 

Perfumers may draw from thousands of fine ingredients at our Ivorydale, Ohio, campus to develop scents for classic products like Tide, Downy, Gain, and Febreze. After formulation, the laundry team conducts detailed washing and drying tests under household conditions. Then after minimum technical criteria are met, they conduct consumer focus groups.

While having an outstanding track record of creating iconic fragrances across every P&G product category, Rafael also remembers all the fragrances that didn’t make it into the products you love. Although he has personally celebrated more than 50 fragrance launches over his illustrious career, he’s created thousands that never made it to market. But as with any product development process, the iterative nature of crafting scents is well worth the effort when one scent captures the hearts—and noses—of millions of consumers.

So, the next time you pause to enjoy the freshness of Febreze in your bathroom, the Springy scent of clothes washed with Tide PODS, the swagger of your Old Spice Body Wash, or a Summer Citrusy Mr. Clean kitchen, pause and thank a P&G Perfumer whose tireless work made that moment possible.

Related Story:Tide: The History of the Smell of Clean in North America (Perfumer & Flavorist)

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