Thursday, August 7, 2008

Scent marketing: what's the big stink


Upon beginning to look into the topic of “scent marketing” for a “mere” blog post and not an academic essay, I was quickly overwhelmed! The sophistication of retail marketing and consumer shopping analysis means that, as a topic, “scent marketing” already has a wealth of information written about it. Although this renders any attempt by me to look knowledgeable in this area to be doomed to failure, I decided to push on with the topic.

Scent marketing is grounded in the premise that an individual’s olfactory (read, nasal) receptors are sensitive to certain smells and that reactions to certain smells can prompt a consumer to linger a little longer in a shopping aisle or adopt a more positive attitude to the surroundings around them. Florida amusement parks and electronics stores use these techniques. Gen Ys will probably be familiar with the faux cedar woodsy scents billowing around any typical suburban Hollister store!


Yet this type of “sensory marketing” has actually been around in advertising in a much subtler form for as long as real estate agents have been able to conduct
open houses. It has become an adage among these agents that having the smell of freshly baked cookies or pies can be more effective for potential buyers than a “fresh coat of paint or the allure of good schools.” The Science of Smell website provides exhaustive research from Dr. Alan Hirsch describing the path of odors to the nerve (smell) receptors in our nose and how they eventually end up triggering various hormonal or emotional responses in the body.

(Image taken from the
Science of Smell website)

In terms of a marketing perspective, having this connection and reaction provides enhanced abilities for individual consumers to distinguish products, triggering memories or desires that can influence purchasing decisions or quite simply, create environments that remind consumers of home, a place where they are comfortable and are therefore able to stay longer and consume more.
(Taken from
The Scent Marketing Institute)

Consumers today are bombarded with visual advertisements, with the typical adult being exposed to 294 TV ads per day, according to the industry reference book "TV Dimensions 2005" not to mention internet, print, out-of-home, and radio. With 83% of “commercial contact being visual, CAB/AC Nielsen estimated that only 10 or 20 messages will produce even a
"fleeting awareness of the brand”. Smell has now been targeted in a more mainstream grouping of industries, beyond fashion and hospitality as a way to gain a marketing edge.

Someday, through the power of Smell-o-Vision, you’ll be able to experience these scents as you’re reading this blog! But until that glorious day, here are what the Scent Marketing Institute purports to be the top 10 retail marketing scents and their desired effects on consumers:

Talcum powder: Feel safe, secure and nostalgic
Peppermint, citrus: Be more alert
Lavender, vanilla, chamomile: Relax
Barbecue smoke: Perceive a room as being smaller
Apple, cucumber: Perceive a room as larger
Leather, cedar: Buy expensive furniture
Fresh baked goods: Buy a home
Tailored floral/citrus scents: Browse longer and spend more
Unpleasant smells (rotting rubbish, air pollution): Develop road rage – although why retail marketers would want consumers to develop road rage in stores is somewhat baffling.
Pumpkin pie/lavender (for men) and the sweat of nursing mothers (for women): sexual arousal

As the technological sophistication of scent marketing increases and marketers learn more about the very atavistic ways in which we are affected by smells, a new segment of brand interaction will arise in which scent plays a big role in cultivating a consumer’s holistic brand experience. This is far beyond the days of old scratch and sniff promo materials.

If it leads to the next new car smell, then I’m all for it!

Sources and Interesting Links to Follow:
Article from HowStuffWorks on Scent Marketing
FastCompany.com article about Scent as a new branding frontier
The Journal News
Dr. Alan Hirsch's Science of Smell
Sellsius Real Estate Blog
Orland Sentinel article about scents in rides

1 comment:

Mitch said...

Check out the Air Sense blog -- there's a ton of interesting info about scent marketing there.

http://airsensenews.com