Ahh, the cozy, inviting scents that fill our homes over the holidays — cinnamon, gingerbread, spruce, cedar, and…broken rosary, or old books?
Believe it or not, these are some of the holiday candle scents available this season. What does a broken rosary smell like, you ask? Apparently, it’s woody and floral (with a hint of Catholic guilt?), and it can be yours for $44.
Within recent years, scented candle names took a distinctly evocative turn. They went from being merely descriptive to evoking emotions, memories, and experiences. And as the holiday shopping season approaches, they’ll be everywhere. Traditional ones, like Yankee Candle’s basalm & cedar or peppermint pinwheels, are still around, of course. But Zinzin’s finely tuned naming noses sniffed out some doozies. So, let’s follow the holiday scented trail of this candle naming trend — will it wax or wane?
How the nose knows
When it comes to scented candles, there’s no room for flickering feelings. You either love ’em or hate ’em. People who keep scented candles in their home often use them to relax, to create a mood or ambiance, or simply to please their olfactory bulb.
We all have one — it’s the thing that transmits smell information from the nose to the brain. Once the smell information is in our brain, it fires up our limbic system which is home to our memories and emotions. Therefore, we’re attracted to certain candle scents because of the memories we associate with them.
The holidays are ripe for giving our limbic systems a boost. Scented candles come out of the woodwork to decorate homes or to give as gifts to promote feelings of nostalgia, relaxation, and festivity.
Some wax facts
The National Candle Association estimates that there are more than 10,000 different candle scents available to U.S. consumers, and approximately 35% of candle sales occur during the Christmas/holiday season. Apparently, Americans prefer container or jar candles, and we pay anywhere between $35 to $200+ for them.
However, one of the most notable facts is this: candle industry research indicates that the most important factors affecting candle sales are scent, color, cost and shape. Hmm, no mention of name? Something doesn’t smell right.
Our big question (and answer)
Q: If the name of a candle isn’t among the “most important factors affecting candle sales,” then why are so many brands putting significant efforts into evocative candle names?
A: Because a new generation of scented candle brands (and the creative/marketing brains behind them) realize the power of an evocative name.
A name is the first and most elemental point of audience contact with a brand. In many respects, the name is the brand. It sets the tone. It’s the handshake, the introduction, the first impression (formed within a matter of seconds) for everything the brand is about.
With scented candles, the name is the whiff before the whiff, if you will. In a brick and mortar store, someone will likely see the candle’s name first, then give it a sniff. But that’s only possible if they’re buying it in-person, of course. Obviously, to buy a scented candle online, all we have to go on is the name and the description of the scents involved.
There’s no sniffing online (yet)
According to market data and analytics company, NPD, 85% of consumers will include shopping online in their holiday plans, up from 80% last year. And a greater number of previously store-only shoppers are shifting to shopping both in stores and online, accelerated by the pandemic, no doubt.
Thus, an online scented candle purchase involves major olfactory trust. What’s more certain to a customer is what’s known: the name of the candle, as well as its shape, color, and cost. But if the latter three are generally similar, what’s the one thing that could possibly differentiate them? You guessed it — the name.
Scented candle names for the holidays
For example, you want to buy your best friend a holiday candle gift set. Naturally, most of you will go online to find one. There are so many to choose from — it’s a little overwhelming, even for the seasoned shopper. But wait! You find some candles with fun and interesting names. Now, time to weigh your options…
Should you go with the New Season, Old You bundle by Anecdote Candles?
- Homebody / “Smells like invited and not going.”
- Hot Mess / “Smells like sorry, just saw this.”
- Two Weeks’ Notice / “Smells like burn out and peace out.”
- Wanderlust / “Smells like hopeful escapes and aimless destinations.”
Or would Homesick’s Holiday Collection bundle be better?
Instead, you could always ditch the bundle and pick one of Homesick’s a la carte options:
But you know your friend best — The Holiday Bundle by Boy Smells would blow them away:
On second thought, winter weather makes them want to curl up by a fire. In which case, these candles might help them relax and feel cozy:
Or wait…maybe you need to really spice up your friend’s holiday. These candle names are sure to give them a laugh and stand out from other gifts:
- Dirty Gingerbread
- Dirty Santa
- This Smells Like My Orgasm
- This Smells Like My Vagina
- This Smells Like My Prenup
- Cocaine & Hookers
- Extraterrestrial Adventure
- Sage Against the Machine
Opinion piece on candle names
In New York Magazine, Danielle Cohen wrote a great piece called Candle Names Have Gotten Out of Control. She makes the case that candle names should be evocative, and “lend their overpriced votives an air of aspiration.” However, she also believes a lot of names have gone way too far. She writes,
Equally off-putting are the political slogans that have made their way into the luxury-candle space. Some brands have at least made the effort to link their liberal-leaning candles to some sort of charitable donation, which is nice but does not excuse naming a candle I’m Speaking. (Apparently, it “smells like male fragility and rude interruptions,” and a portion of profits will go toward a “nonpartisan” nonprofit helping women run for public office.)…The moment I knew for sure things had gone too far was when I came across Cancelled Plans’ Student Loans candle (no charitable tie-in there).
What’s the origin of this candle-naming trend? Cohen traces it back to 2020, when Gwyneth Paltrow and perfume brand Heretic collaborated on a candle line. She believes “Paltrow and her polarizing candles spawned a new generation of out-of-control candle names.” (See This Smells Like My Vagina, etc. in the list above.)
Candles spied in their natural habitat
While visiting family this Thanksgiving, Zinzin’s founder spotted these two candles from the Malicious Women Co. The images below are appropriately Thanksgiving-woozy (a new candle name?), which inspired the discovery of holiday candle names by this women-owned brand.
According to Malicious Women, “Our bestselling candles are hand-poured in Snohomish, WA, and feature the realest, funniest, most unapologetic messages.” Although they have 75 candles in their current brand portfolio, here’s a sample of just some of their holiday scents, complete with descriptions:
- Christmas Movie Watching Candle — Infused With: “A Corporate Career Woman & An Underemployed Hot Guy.” Scent: Yule.
- Drinkin’ Around The Christmas Tree — Infused With “All My Jingle Ladies.” Scent: Mint Hot Chocolate & Pine.
- Happy Hallothanksmas! — Infused With ” Weight Gain.” Scent: Pumpkin, Apple, & Ginger.
- Sleigh All Day — Infused With: “Gangsta Wrapping Skills.” Scent: Sugared Cranberry.
- Merry F’n Stressmas — Infused With “Unrealistic Expectations.” Scent: Yule.
- Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest WINNER –Infused With: “No Shame. Like…None.” Scent: Bad Santa.
- Getting Paler Every Day — Infused With “Sweater Weather.” Scent: Shiplap Orchard.
Does a great name inspire a scent? Or is scent born from a great name? Chicken/egg, perhaps. With due respect to the National Candle Association, it seems the importance of a name has overtaken scent in factors that affect candle sales these days. It’ll be interesting to see where scent names go, or see if they stay evocatively out of control.
And remember what we advise in our Manifiesto about being Difruhnt, But Not That Different: If your name is trying too hard to be different just in order to stand out, it won’t — it will blend in with all the other names that are also trying too hard, and failing, to stand out.
It’ll also be interesting to follow the progress of digital scent technology. Maybe one day we can effectively scratch and sniff a candle on our screen to sample the scent before we buy it.
Overall, the importance of authenticity in branding, especially with Millennials and Gen Z, will remain. Nostalgia marketing also plays a big role in branding and naming, never more so than during the holidays. What’s certain is that evocative names will always be a powerful force in making emotional connections, which builds brand loyalty…and that’s ultimately the whole jar of wax.