Consumers didn’t need to be told that Jazz Diet Pepsi was about to hit store shelves; they could smell it. The soft-drink company had placed an ad laced with scents of black cherry and French vanilla in the October 2006 edition of People magazine.
Four months later, British travel agency Thomson Holidays sprayed its store windows with a scratchand- sniff scent of coconut suntan lotion, in order to remind those passing by that they, via Thomson Holidays, could leave February’s icy chill for beaches in sunnier climes.
Since catchy jingles and flashy graphics are ubiquitous, many companies are hoping that nice smells will prove a new way to attract customers’ attention.
“Smell can trigger memory, nostalgia, and mental pictures before any left-brain analysis muddies the waters,” writes C. Russell Brumfield in his new book, Whiff! Brumfeld is founder of Whiff Solutions, a company that consults clients on the application of scent marketing and communication. He believes that we more easily remember what we smell than what we see or hear. A smell can instantly bring us back to longago times and places, like early childhood.
It is not surprising, then, that Midwest Airlines flight attendants calmed nervous passengers by popping cookie trays into the airplane ovens shortly before take off. With the homey scent of baked cookies drifting through the cabin, anxious travelers were set at ease.
“The memory of smell is a long one. What we see and hear slowly grows dim in memory, but what we smell lives on and can be easily recalled,” Brumfeld writes.
There is sound science behind these marketing ploys, says Alan Hirsch, director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation. Unlike the other four senses, scent travels directly to the brain’s emotional centers and produces automatic feelings in the receiver, whereas the perceptions registered by the other senses travel through interpretive brain centers first and then arrive at emotional centers.
Smell’s uniquely fast track to feelings is why Hirsch says that “the quickest way to reach the emotions is through smell.”
Hirsch’s studies demonstrate that smell influences behavior in powerful ways. He found that, when one shoe store maintained a mixed floral aroma, customers were more likely to buy shoes. He also found that a casino’s slot machine revenues went up when a pleasant aroma pervaded the slot machine area.
A London nightclub underscored Hirsch’s findings. When it wafted the smell of coconut through its interior, sales of the rum drink Malibu more than doubled.
“Our relatively recent understanding of the prominence and influence of scent in our lives is rapidly changing the paradigm of how we market, sell, and deliver products and services to consumers,” writes Brumfield.
Smell might be a useful tool in years ahead for other groups besides advertisers, according to Brumfeld. Engineers might make buildings with labyrinthine hallways easier to navigate by giving unique aromas to individual hallways and wings.
The Scent of Terror
The U.S. Department of Defense sees national-security applications of scent technology. The department’s Unique Signature Detection Project hopes to more easily capture terrorist suspects. DOD researcher Gary Beauchamp says that, “even after leaving the scene of a crime, a terrorist’s scent could spread over a large distance and linger for a considerable time.”
Police might compile a similar registry of children’s smells and more quickly locate missing children.
Can smell ever be overused? A law enforcement agency armed with such a registry need not only track missing children: It might track any one of us.
“We should be cautious about how we employ these new technologies, and do everything we can to insure that they are not used to shackle, control, or abuse us,” Brumfield says. – Rick Docksai
Sources: Whiff! The Revolution of Scent Communication in the Information Age by C. Russell Brumfield. Quimby Press. 2008. 304 pages. Paperback. $24.95. Order online from the Futurist Bookshelf, www.wfs.org/bkshelf.htm.
“Dale Air Hopes Thomson Campaign is Up to Scratch,” In-Store Marketing (March 12, 2007), Centaur Communications Ltd., www.mad.co.uk.