Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Nose Knows

Below is Part One of an article from about scent-based marketing. O Brave New World!

(Some of the information on olfaction isn't exactly scientific, but you'll get the idea.)

Now Smell This

Savvy consumer marketers are proving that the way to your pocketbook is through your nose.

By Suzanne Bopp

Sept. 17, 2008 In a German movie theater last month, audience members waiting for the feature wondered why they were seeing people lounging on a beach. After 60 seconds of waves and seagulls, a tag line for Nivea sunscreen appeared, and the scent of Nivea wafted into the theater through the air-conditioning vents.

Later, a survey showed that audience recall of the smelly ad was 500 percent higher than for the scent-free version. Whether moviegoers enjoyed the scent of sunscreen with their popcorn was not recorded. But that's a number that advertisers certainly recall -- and one that proponents of scent marketing love to broadcast.
"Scent will soon be a normal part of advertising and entertainment," says Carmine Santandrea, owner of a scent marketing company in Santa Barbara, Calif. After circulating the smell of milk chocolate in the vicinity of a vending machine, he says, he saw a "sales lift of 300 percent for Hershey Kisses. That's never happened in advertising before. Those results can't be ignored."

Neither can an odor. While you can turn a magazine page or change a television channel, you can't avoid inhaling. "That's the good and bad thing about scent -- you can't get away from it," says Harald Vogt, founder of the
Scent Marketing Institute. "In our environment, everything already smells. The question is how you manage the smells."

The idea of scent in advertising is not new. Back in 1965, Santandrea created a scented Coke pavilion at the World's Fair in New York. But science has now given Madison Avenue powerful new tools to fulfill its odorous promise. Today's chemists, for instance, can capture the scent of a strawberry in varying stages of ripeness by taking samples of the air around the berry with a gas chromatograph. The bigger development, according to Avery Gilbert, author of
"What the Nose Knows," is that chemists can develop recipes for any smell, down to a single molecule.

"There's a plant in the Sierra Nevada in the summer that gives off a cooked artichoke smell," Gilbert says. "The Indians knew about it; John Muir noticed it. It's called Sierra Mountain Misery. I took a sprig and sent it to a chemist and found that the smell comes from one molecule that makes up less than 1 percent of the entire formula."

Scent marketing has also become more sophisticated because of what we've learned about olfaction. Smell may be the least lauded of the senses, but it's the one most closely connected to our moods and recollections. (The loss of it, called anosmia, can produce tremendous anxiety and depression.) Memories inspired by fragrance are more emotional than those triggered by sights or sounds. In studies, scent-elicited memories cause subjects to mention more emotions, rate them as more intense, and report more of a feeling of being back in the time and place relevant to a smell. Catching a whiff of the perfume your grandmother wore is likely to bring back stronger memories of her -- and the feelings associated with her -- than seeing her photo.
That can happen before you are even conscious of the scent. That's because an incoming odor proceeds directly to your limbic system, which handles memories and emotions; non-olfactory perception must go to the hypothalamus and then on to the cortex for further analysis. "Scent goes right to your emotions," Santandrea says. "And if I can appeal to your primal senses, I've got you. That is what advertisers do. If you find that offensive, you have a problem with all of advertising."

Scent marketing is not limited to products that have an inherent aroma, like Hershey's Kisses; items such as clothing or stereos have their own universe of "scent abstractions" to brand themselves. Smell for yourself: Walk into the Samsung store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and you may notice a melon aroma. Westin Hotels envelop guests with their White Tea fragrance. (Now you can buy Westin-scented candles to enjoy the hotel smell at home!)

Extensive research preceded the introduction of those scents. Companies start with a "fragrance brief," describing the scent image they want to project. Fragrance vendors then create scents they imagine fulfill the descriptions. Because Samsung and Westin are global brands, and there is no globally agreed upon pleasant smell, they had to be certain that the scents would not be offensive anywhere.

"To use something 'fruity' and 'light' is the best bet for any scent marketing effort that is not connected to a product," Vogt says. "A good example for a product-related scent is Thomas Pink's 'Line Dried Linen' that smells, well, just like it. If you don't have such a product, you look at your target audience, what they prefer and use, and start from there."

Some people find smell advertising offensive, akin to subliminal advertising. But Gilbert has a quick defense. "If a pizzeria is venting out onto the street, and the smell makes you want pizza, is that somehow mind control?" he asks. "Scent is a weird channel that people don't think about on regular basis. Once it becomes more standardized, people will get over it."

Maybe they'll even like it. Stores like Samsung want to forge a fragrance bond that creates positive feelings, customer loyalty and increased spending. Research gives them hope.

(to be continued…or go to to read the rest)


flannerygrace said...

Manipulation by scent, now that is a concept! My mind reels thinking of what particular scents might be used in this fashion. What would Tubereuse Criminelle sell? Gasoline?

Or Angel and various other Mugler's?

And can you imagine the stampede out of a theater that released any number of famous scrubbers?

This could really backfire!

Divina said...

I wonder how fast until scent advertizing is banned, however. It smacks of the same ethical problems of subliminal advertizing (which is banned), especially with regards to food/snack purchases, wouldn't you say? Very very interesting post, thank you!

PS: There is substantial experimental proof for the theory that memories are retained better when anchored (as in coupled)with sensory input and indeed smell is one of the most studied variables. Thus I am not at all surprised by the Nivea results!

Olfacta said...

The best example I can come up with for food/smell advertising is barbecue. Here in Atlanta there are barbecue joints all over the place, and they all send the hickory smoke wafting into the air; barbecue smells so much better than it tastes! And yet you don't hear complaining. It's part of the culture. So it would be difficult to draw lines saying, this is ok, but this isn't.

I don't think subliminal advertising ever went away. Its's just called "product placement" now.

Divina said...

The two are quite different (product placement and subliminal advertizing I mean). I specifically refer to images flashed too quickly for the conscious to perceive. As crazy as it sounds, people do get affected by it. (eg. subliminally advertizing Fanta during a film showing at the cinema will lead to more sales of Fanta etc....)

I get what you're saying about the bbq joints and you're right, it would be very difficult to draw lines. Still, it feels so wrong to me...

maisqueperfume said...

In my opinion, if advertizers will use the original scent of a product, to enhace marketing camp. it is very acceptable. To use subliminal adv seems unethical...
But this is not new, we are bombed everyday by subliminal advertizing.
Did you see allstar snickers in a scene of Sofia Coppola´s Marie Antoinette? I did, but most people didn´t.
See what I mean?
Amazing blog, and thankx to Divina I got here.
I also ave a perfume blog.
fragrant greetings,

Olfacta said...

Well, thanks, glad you (and Divina) are reading! (and I'll check out the blog, too.)

I used to work in advertising, and my husband still does. The general idea is that we are now bombarded with thousands and thousands of messages each day. So I can imagine that smell is an unplowed field to these people. However, I couldn't help but notice that the guy who runs the "Scent Marketing Institute" has been at it since at least 1965 -- 43 years -- and it still seems rather fringe, like nobody's been able to really make a go of it. And I always wonder about these "studies have shown" statements; how many people were in the study, how were they chosen, etc. To me, a lot of this stuff really, uh, smells of bad research.

Abigail said...

Fascinating post! I need to simmer on this. I don't think scented advertising could or should be banned. But it does seem somehow more intrusive...I guess because of the way our sense of smell works, how it impacts memory and emotions...
as I said, very interesting...