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The sense of smell is the strongest of all human senses. It reminds us of experiences - good and bad - we may have had decades ago. Scent travels straight to the limbic system in our brain - which is responsible for memory and emotion.
For marketing purposes, scents have proven to work well in two areas:
â€¢ The Cognitive, in which they make us recognize a product and trigger a desire or memory that may end up in a decision or a purchase. The ideal application is to stop a passer-by by projecting that product's scent into her path. Consumer research shows that once a scent is dispersed, related products are perceived of higher quality and value. For instance a scented toilet paper was perceived softer than the identical, unscented version.
â€¢ The Emotional, in which scents make us feel comfortable, "at home", influencing our perception of the passing of time (slower in a scented environment as proven in Las Vegas casinos) and space (a scented room is perceived larger than an unscented room). Scent can generate an environment where we like to stay longer and consume more.
The key potential of scent marketing for a brand is the lasting association of a scent with a certain event or environment. Evoking a positive sensory experience with your brand can give your product or service an edge in a sea of consumer choices.
Making brand scents
Scent is a powerful emotional trigger and it's about time that more brands begin to realise this.
Marketing Mix recently spoke to Alex Moskvin, vice president of Brand Emotions, about the value of sensory branding and of scent branding in particular. Brand Emotions is an internal company at International Flavours and Fragrances (IFF), a New York based enterprise that specialises in sensory branding and marketing.
Moskvin maintains that our sense of smell is crucial in the development of emotional connections. "Of all the senses, smell is more directly hard-wired to the emotional centres of the brain. Scent can also trigger seemingly long forgotten memories. It is the new and last frontier of branding!" says Moskvin.
Research by IFF has indicated that scent can enhance a person's perception of a brand and is even able to create an emotional connection to it. Companies have cottoned on to this - boutique stores in the US serve warm, freshly-baked cookies to customers, who subsequently perceive these outlets as homely, safe, warm, etc. This is known as the scent identity effect. "The effect of scent is such that it is deeply embedded in human consciousness and memory. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to forget. Scent can also enhance peoples' experience of a brand ie they spend more time in the store as they browse and interact with products," says Moskvin.
However the link between a brand and a scent needs careful consideration - for instance, serving warm cookies to customers in a diet-product store won't work for obvious reasons. "The scents that have the greatest impact are those which are designed to fit with the brand's essence and desired personality," says Moskvin. A great example would be the smell of fresh flowers and natural water in a day spa - or the smell of toasted coffee beans in a café."
Thanks to modern technology, scents can now be engineered and customised so that brands are able to create and infuse their products with their own scents. For example, IFF has created technology that can be incorporated into items - eg business cards - to create more distinctive products and brand connections that are easily and powerfully reinforced through scent
August 20, 2007
Smells like sales
SW·Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times
By Karen Ravn
August 20, 2007 in print edition F-1
When Verizon introduced its Chocolate cellphone last summer the seductive aroma of
chocolate wafted through its northeast stores, and customers sniffed out a good
In 2006, when ScentAndrea, a scent marketing company in Santa Barbara, put
chocolate scent strips on 33 vending machines in factory break rooms in Ventura
(plus a sign that said it was Hershey's candy people were smelling) the brand's
And in 2005, when Exxon On The Run convenience stores in North Carolina
highlighted a new brewing system with coffee scents from ScentAir, a scent
marketing company in Charlotte, coffee sales perked up by a healthy 55%.
Just three examples of "scent marketing," the scintillating strategy that nosed
its way into Advertising Age Magazine's Top 10 "Trends to Watch in 2007."
Stores and product designers devote countless hours and dollars to such matters as
the color and shape of a package or the precise arrangement of items in the aisles
of a store, the better to coax shoppers to linger, purchase and impulse-buy. Now,
scent marketers say, it is time to turn to the nose. "Most marketing - 85% - is
visual," says Harald Vogt, founder and chief marketer of the Scent Marketing
Institute in Scarsdale, N.Y. "Scent marketing is the last frontier."
Already it is a $100-million business, and Vogt predicts it will reach $500
million or even $1 billion within the next seven to eight years.
Scent marketers say this makes eminent sense. After all, no matter how tempting a
display of barbecues looks, you'll have a harder time passing it by if the aroma
of meat on the grill is greeting your nose. Plus, who can deny the emotive pull of
smell? One whiff of a scent can make a person laugh or cry, and exclaim with
delight ("Those roses are lovely!") or disgust ("What have you been feeding the
And with the advent of TiVo and iPods, scent marketers argue that they're neededlike never before. "The consumer now has the tools to block out the cacophony ofadvertising we are battered with daily," says Carmine Santandrea, founder andchief executive of ScentAndrea Multisensory Communications in Santa Barbara, thecompany responsible for putting scent in the Chocolate phone campaign. "At leastwe can make it smell good, and pull people into the message by the nose."
So confident of success are scent marketers that some, at least, are willing to
put their money where their mouth is.
Santandrea offers a money-back guarantee that any promotion he runs will increase
sales enough to pay for itself.
Science (much of it published in such tomes as the Journal of Marketing and
Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services) is backing up the influence of scents
on human shopping behavior. It has shown, for example, that scent can make
shoppers spend more time and money in a store and make them pay more attention to
"You don't want to overestimate its effects," says Paula Bone, a professor of
marketing at West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va. "It's really just a
part of your overall marketing strategy." It also has to be done right: "The new-
car smell is a really good smell - but not in a shoe store," says Rachel Herz, a
professor at Brown University and a consultant on the psychology and neuroscience
But, taken together, the data suggest that the right scent at the right time when
sniffed by the right people can make them more likely to walk up to a cash
register, less likely to walk away from a slot machine.
Here's how our noses get us reaching for our wallets.
The ideal trigger
Suppose you're walking past a bakery, and you smell bread baking. That makes you
hungry for bread, so you go in and buy a loaf.
It's scent marketing at its simplest (and most successful): You smell a scent
connected to a particular product, and you decide to buy the product. For years,
for example, Disneyland's Main Street confectionery store has been pumping candy
aromas into the air outside the store from its "Smellitzer" machines.
But scent marketing's more subtle than that - it also nudges associations in our
brain between smells and other good stuff. Suppose you're house-hunting and you
come to a house that smells like chocolate chip cookies, the kind your mother used
to make. Suddenly you're remembering when you were a kid and your mother let you
eat some of the dough. That feels good, so perhaps you buy the house. No wonder
Realtors urge home sellers to bake cookies just before a prospective buyer comes
Many products don't have their own scent, of course. Scent-marketers want to
market those scent-challenged products too. One approach is to give whatever
product they're marketing its own "signature scent" and then patent that scent so
nothing else can ever smell that way.
Any time you go to a Westin Hotel anywhere in the world, you'll smell the Westin
Hotel signature scent. But you won't ever smell it anywhere else.
Another scent-marketing approach is to use a not-necessarily-original "ambientscent" to market, in one fell swoop, all the products in a particular area - asection of a store, say.
Across the country, Bloomingdale's uses baby powder scent in its baby department,lilac scent in its intimate apparel department and coconut scent in its swimsuitdepartment.
"We don't claim our systems will increase customer spending. We're creating a
pleasant environment," says Murray Dameron, director of marketing for ScentAir,
which provides the Bloomingdale's scents.
The ambient scent is meant to enhance customers' impressions of the entire area
along with all the products in that area - and store owners probably wouldn't
object if the scent made customers spend more too.
It seems like a lot to ask of a smell, but researchers have shown that it can. For
several decades, smell laboratories around the globe have been churning out
research reports that demonstrate scent's salesmanship - often with undergraduate
students as guinea pigs making shopping decisions in laboratories kitted out as
In a study published in the Journal of Marketing in 1996, for example, a team led
by Eric Spangenberg of Washington State University tested 308 undergraduate
students in a "simulated store environment" set up in a consumer behavior
laboratory and offering "one-stop shopping," including kitchen and school items
and athletic gear. The store was infused with either an ambient scent previously
judged to be inoffensive or no scent at all. Students filled out a questionnaire
about the store and its products while exploring it alone and at their own pace.
Spangenberg's team found that the presence of the inoffensive scent was enough to
raise the students' evaluations of the store and, to a lesser extent, its
The students were also a little more likely to behave the way store owners would
like them to behave: They looked at more products and indicated a greater
likelihood of buying something.
Other studies have found that shoppers spend more time in pleasantly-scented
stores - or, for that matter, that gamblers will spend more money in pleasantly-
In a landmark 1993 study, over the course of three successive weekends, Alan
Hirsch, founder of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in
Chicago, measured how much money was gambled in three separate slot-machine areas
in a Las Vegas casino. On the middle weekend, Hirsch scented two of the areas -
one with a "floral mix," another with an "inactive odor" - but not the third. He
compared the amounts gambled in each of the three areas on the three weekends.
In the floral mix area, the amount gambled was about 45% higher on the weekend it
was scented than on the weekends before and after. The amounts gambled in the
other scented area and in the no-scent area didn't change over the course of the
Las Vegas casinos do use ambient scents (such as jasmine in the MGM Grand and
"Seduction," a signature scent, in the Venetian) but any connection between this
and Hirsch's study may be circumstantial. "Scents are very effective in
neutralizing and masking the smell of cigar and cigarette smoke," says Yvette
Monet, a spokeswoman for MGM Mirage, parent of MGM Grand Las Vegas Resort.
You can't just put any old scent out there on the shop floor and expect your coats
and shoes to fly off the rack.
You need that critical je ne sais quoi known as "congruence" - how well a scent
fits the environment where it's used. "People need to be cognizant of the
potential consequences of doing it wrong," Spangenberg warns.
For example, in another Spangenberg-led study, 140 undergraduates watched slidesof a wide variety of merchandise in a store about 100 miles away from the lab andthen filled out a questionnaire about them. While they did this, music was playing
- either Amy Grant's "Heart in Motion" CD or her "Home for Christmas" CD - and the
lab was either scented with an odor called "Enchanted Christmas" or had no scent.
When "Home for Christmas" was being played, adding "Enchanted Christmas" generally
led to higher customer evaluations of the store and the environment. But when
"Heart in Motion" was being played, adding "Enchanted Christmas" either had no
effect or brought evaluations down.
The authors speculated in this 2005 report that congruence is also important
between scent and other factors in the environment. One would not expect brisk
sales, they suggest, if a Christmas-y scent were combined with Christmas-y music
in a store right about now.
Gender matters too. Men don't go for sweetpea and frangipani. Women aren't so keen
on charcoal and motor oil.
And it can make a bottom-line difference. In 2005, yet another Spangenberg-led
team tested 181 real-world shoppers in a clothing store scented either with rose
maroc, previously determined to appeal to males, or vanilla, previously determined
to appeal to females.
When the scent was congruent with the merchandise - with rose maroc in the men's
section and vanilla in the women's section - shoppers were happier campers than
when the scents were reversed: Not only did they evaluate the store and its
merchandise more favorably, but they also spent about 50% more time there, bought
almost twice as many items and spent more than twice as much money.
Out-of-sync-scent snafus could easily occur in a shopping environment such as a
mall, which is a complex intermingling of myriad factors with plenty of chances
for unfortunate clashes. Scientists have found that even minor changes - in odor,
color scheme, type and volume of music - can put a kibosh on congruence, causing
shoppers to rate product quality lower and enjoy their shopping less.
In fact, though most researchers have talked about the positive effects of
congruence, Bone and coauthor Pam Ellen have suggested that the negative effects
of incongruence seem to be what really matter. Adding the scent of suntan lotion
might be a plus for a swimsuit promotion, but adding the scent of pumpkin pie
would probably be a much bigger minus.
Suppose the first time you ever smelled a wet dog, she had just pulled you out ofa lake where you were about to drown. Then you might grow up liking the scent ofwet dog.
But if the first time you ever smelled a wet dog is when she had just pulled you
into a lake and got your party clothes soaked, you might grow up thinking wet dogs
Many of our judgments about scents are learned, based on our personal experiences
and personal associations. Besides, some of us can perceive and identify scents
better than others. Women, as a rule, have better noses than men - which could
make them easier prey for scent marketers (they might notice scents men miss) but
could also make them tougher sells (if it's meant to smell like lemons and smells
like limes, that might sour them on the whole scene).
These differences make life interesting for scent marketers, but researchers have
begun to unravel the complexities.
Youth is a factor. In one soon-to-be-published study, a team led by Jean-Charles
Chebat of Ãâ€°cole des hautes Ã©tudes commerciales of Montreal found that shoppers
younger than 35 spent more in a suburban mall when it had a pleasant ambient scent
than when it didn't. But this was not true for older shoppers - possibly because
the sense of smell declines with age.
The type of shopper being lured is another complicating factor. A 2005 study
examined the effect of a pleasant ambient scent on two kinds of shoppers in a
suburban mall: impulsive (those who made unplanned purchases) and contemplative
(those who didn't).
According to the shoppers' own reports, the contemplative ones spent more money in
the presence of scent. Impulsive ones spent less.
Pairing a smell with music can be fruitful, as the Christmas-scent-and-music
studies show. (So did a 2001 study pairing a relaxing scent with slow-tempo music
and a stimulating scent with fast-tempo music.)
But sensory overload is a risk. In the impulsive-contemplative study, when music
was playing and scent was present, both shopper types spent less than they spent
in any other situation. Unlike the case of Christmas-y music and Christmas-y
scent, music and smell weren't linked in a pleasing, congruent way.
In 1998, Herz published a study in which she found that our senses all evoke
equally accurate memories, but scents evoke more emotional ones. Perhaps no study
has been more influential in the scent-marketing industry.
One company, ScentAir Inc. of Charlotte, N.C., says on its website: "ScentAir
enables businesses to create a unique in-store experience by engaging memory and
emotions through patented scent delivery systems." Another, AromaSys Inc. of Lake
Elmo, Minn., says it transforms experiences "into emotional memories that give
customers a reason to return."
Vogt, of Scent Marketing Institute, says, "The sense of smell goes straight intothe limbic system in the brain, which is responsible for emotions and decision-making. Scent can trigger powerful memories in the consumer. How much better doesit get?"
This is the theory behind going on a baking spree when you want to sell your
house. But do emotional memories really play much of a role in a trip to the mall
to buy some toothpaste? And if not, what is going on?
For one thing, consumers' responses to scent are proving not to be purely
emotional. In a 2003 study, subjects evaluated familiar and unfamiliar brands
presented either with an ambient scent or not. The next day they were tested on
their memory of the brands, again with or without scent. Having scent present when
they were first evaluating the brands improved subjects' later memory of them, the
study found. It also found that the scent wasn't changing the subjects' self-
assessed emotional state, but it was increasing their attention - i.e., they took
longer with their evaluations.
Analysis suggested that it was this increased attention - a cognitive, not
emotional, process - that improved brand memory.
Other researchers have reported that scent does not influence shoppers to buy more
at a mall by putting them in a good mood, thus making them think more highly of
the mall and the products in it. It's the other way around. The smells make
shoppers think more highly of the mall and the products in it. That, in turn, puts
them in a good mood - which makes them buy more.
A "Got Milk?" advertising campaign in San Francisco earlier this year put the
scent of chocolate chip cookies into bus stops. It was meant to move people to buy
milk (not a house), and it was aborted after one day.
Some people had complained because they thought it might make homeless people feelbad because they couldn't buy cookies or milk. Others had complained because theythought the artificial scent might be releasing dangerous chemicals.
Scent marketers are adamant that everything they use has been tested and approved
for safety. But some people in the industry worry that, as the use of scent
marketing continues to expand, more people will start objecting to it because they
think it's dangerous, or it'll bring on allergies - or maybe because they just
don't like it.
Halifax, Nova Scotia, has declared itself a fragrance-free city. In Santandrea'sopinion, people there are missing out. "The nose is here to stay," he says, "andwe are going to tweak it."