A recent post on peri-solstice perfume mania got me thinking about seasonality in fragrance use. Being a scientist, I love data—so I started monkeying around with Google Trends to see if I could find anything interesting. And I did.
Trends produces a Search Volume Index for any search term you give it. By default it spits back a weekly data series from January 4, 2004 to the present. It also scales the data; in other words it sets the average search traffic volume to 1.0. Episodes of heavy search volume appear as peaks on the resulting graph. You can also view results country by country.
The first thing I did was look at searches for “perfume” in the United States. A glance a the resulting graph (above) shows three annual features. First, a huge Christmas traffic surge. The uptick begins the first week in November and peaks just before Christmas (December 12 to 20). Note: these weekly results are dated each Sunday; I assume they are week-ending dates, but Google is not explicit about this.
Second, a small but reliable bump in search traffic preceding each Valentine’s Day (February 14th).
Third, a small but reliable bump in search traffic preceding each Mother’s Day (the second Sunday in May). I’ve dated each peak and (in parentheses) the start of the pre-Christmas uptick.
Here’s a close-up that’s easier to read:
Peaks in search activity around Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day confirm what is common knowledge in the industry—that the majority of perfume sales occur in the time span of these three holidays. Presumably the data reflect people (mostly guys?) looking online for the right gift.
All three annual features—peaks at Christmas, Valentine’s and Mother’s Day—appear in each country. (The Christmas peak is clear in the image; you’ll have to take my word for the others. I couldn’t find a way to import hi-res graphs directly into Blogger . . .)
What about a non-Anglophone country, like France? I ran the results for “parfum” and plotted them (in violet) next to the American “perfume” data:
Again, all three annual peaks show up. There is one anomaly: while the Christmas and Valentine’s Day peaks overlap perfectly, the French Mother’s Day peak either lasts longer or begins later than the American peak. I’m not sure why. Is Mother’s Day celebrated in France? Does it have the same date? Or is something else going on? I’d love to hear from readers who have an idea about this.
The cool thing about the enormous sample sizes available from Google Trends is that you can pick up search responses to unique events. Germany, which has an annual Christmas peak but no Valentine’s or Mother’s Day peaks, had an enormous one-time surge in “parfum” search that peaked on September 10, 2006. The German release date of the movie Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, based on the original German novel by Patrick Süskind, was September 14, 2006. In the graph, German results are in green, American in blue.
UPDATE January 2, 2010
In the comments reader Christopher points out that the UK does not celebrate Mother’s Day on the US date, rather Mothering Sunday on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent. From 2004 to 2009 this occurred between March 2 and March 22. US Mother’s Day in contrast ranged from May 1 to May 7.
I went back and examined the USA and UK data more closely. The Christmas and Valentine’s Day peaks coincide perfectly but there is nothing in the UK data corresponding to the US Mother’s Day peak. I was too hasty in eye-balling the graphs when I wrote the original post.
But then I checked the Laetare Sunday dates for 2004 to 2009 against the raw UK data. In each case there is a small blip in traffic the preceding week. Here’s a close up of 2008, US in blue, UK in turquoise:
The Mothering Sunday blip is just to the right of the Valentine’s Day peak. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.
Bottom line: there is no pre-Mother’s Day peak in the UK but there is a faintly detectable blip before Mothering Sunday.
Also: Thanks to reader Ed C. for solving the problem of the missing Mother’s Day peak in France—another anomaly explained by the liturgical calendar! Details in the comments.