Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Nose Knows Part 2

Now Smell This
Part Two (from
by Suzanne Bopp
Below is the conclusion of the article "Now Smell This," from
One study put a floral scent in an area of a casino over a weekend; gamblers there spent 45 percent more money than on other weekends, while the results for unscented areas of the casino remained unchanged. An Iowa State University study showed that introducing a pleasant scent caused shoppers to have more positive attitudes about a selection of sleepwear, as well as a willingness to pay more. But the scent needs to be congruent with the merchandise; a Lily of the Valley fragrance created the positive reaction, but the smell of Sea Mist, though judged to be enjoyable, didn't have the same results with sleepwear sales.

That incongruity probably led to the 2006 backlash against scented ads in San Francisco. As part of a "Got Milk?" campaign, ads in San Francisco bus shelters were imbued with a chocolate-chip-cookie aroma. The idea was to make people crave milk. They didn't. Complaints poured in, and the aromatic milk ads came down after just one day.

Commuters just didn't understand why they would smell baked goods out there, says Rachel Herz, a visiting professor at Brown University and author of
"The Scent of Desire." "They're in a bleak bus stop and they're smelling something that doesn't fit," she says. She warns that people tend to judge unexpected and unfamiliar smells as unpleasant. "Our interpretation typically jumps to the negative," she says, and that's especially true post-9/11, as people are still sensitive to an unusual stimulus of any kind.

Even with all the ongoing olfactory research, much about odor remains mysterious. Chemicals with different structures may smell similar, while those with nearly identical structures can smell completely different. That's a particular challenge to scent manufacturers trying to design the perfect scent. "If you take a novel assortment of odorous molecules, we cannot predict what that will smell like," says Northwestern University neurology professor Jay Gottfried. "If we mix amyl acetate -- a banana smell -- with eugenol -- a clove smell -- there are no rules to say how the mixture will be perceived."

Gender and experience, context and memory determine how an odor molecule is interpreted. When Herz had subjects sniff something identified as Parmesan cheese, they liked the smell. A week later she presented the same odor, telling subjects it was vomit. They found it revolting.

With so much ambiguity and sensitivity surrounding our olfactory systems, scent marketers have considerable responsibilities, Vogt says. They should not put their products in public spaces like bus shelters or spritz consumers without their invitation. And even though reputable scent marketing companies in the U.S. use approved fragrances, Vogt acknowledges safety concerns with foreign products; the Scent Marketing Institute is now establishing industry standards.

Even so, companies know there will be complaints -- Vogt recently received an e-mail with a subject line that read, "You are making us sick." A vocal population considers itself chemically sensitive, and scent marketers have already become a target elsewhere. Halifax, Nova Scotia, has declared itself a completely fragrance-free city. "In some Scandinavian countries, they're legislating against letting vaporous scents into the air," Santandrea says. "We're going to have legislation against us. But if the scent doesn't cling to you, we have a right to do it."

Santandrea insists that scent marketing helps consumers by giving them information. "We're democratizing scent," he says. "Shopping is merely hunting, and in the past when we hunted, we used our noses to inform us of what we were coming to."

At least for now, practical limitations remain. With many different smells mixing in the mall, the results could quickly become unpleasant. After 15 minutes or so, the nose adjusts to a scent and stops perceiving it. And when you go from one scented store into another, the fragrance of the second store may seem distorted to you, or hardly smell at all.

Still, efforts to introduce scent to everything seem irresistible. A few years ago we almost witnessed the release of iSmell, a "personal scent synthesizer" that would have released odors from scented Web sites and e-mails out of your computer. Although the company involved fell victim to the dot-com bust, the technology is available.

Motorola has a "smell-o-phone" in the works (so you can look forward not only to hearing the conversation of the person next to you but to smelling it too.
Scent-a-Vision should be available in the next two or three years, according to Santandrea (editor's note: God help us -- Olfacta) who has invented an appliance that synchronizes scent tracks with movies. Some techno clubs have hired ODO7, an "aroma jockey," who mixes smells onstage to add a "third dimension of entertainment."

Those kinds of applications, Gilbert says, likely hold the key to scent's future. "There will be a breakthrough in a popular culture application -- clubs, concerts, maybe scented artwork," he says. "Maybe then there will be a quiet revolution and scented ads will be no more ominous than billboards in Times Square."

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