Making Sense of Scents in Sensory Marketing

Warm sugar cookies. Microwaved fish. Fresh roses. Can you imagine each scent?

In our tech-focused culture, we are familiar with visual ads of all kinds. Banners flash, pre-roll videos play, pop-ups pop up, and we learn to focus our vision on solely the information we’re seeking. Brands looking to separate themselves from the pack must focus on delivering the whole package. It’s not what the brand looks like; what does it feel like?

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A key element to crafting an experience is scent. You may remember an Old Spice commercial stating, “Scent is the strongest sense tied to memory,” and it’s true. Science has proven that smells can bring back certain memories more easily than any of the other senses. According to the Sense of Smell Institute, New York, the average human being is able to recognize approximately 10,000 different odors and recall them with 65% accuracy after a year. By way of comparison, the visual recall of photographic images decreases to about 50% after only three months.

Does scent have any place in our screen-obsessed culture? Some brands have given it a try with varying success. Check it out:

Ocean Bank

What does your bank smell like?

Ocean Bank scented all of its 21 branches with a signature concoction “Ocean Blue.” Scented businesses are hardly a new idea. In fact, there are a number of companies that specialize in creating and dispersing signature scents to enhance the in-store experience.

Ocean Bank’s scent is “a premium fragrance that begins with mouthwatering mandarin, fresh watery ozone, and green cardamom notes, supported by black pepper and musk,” says Jennifer Dublino, vice president for Scent World Events. Marketing director Cheryl Rees says the bank is even looking into adding the scent to checkbook covers and pens.

Bloom Grocery

Why disperse scent inside the store when you can put it around town?

Back in 2010, Bloom Grocery put up a controversial steak-scented billboard. Really. Aided by a fan, it would waft “a blend of black pepper and kind of a charcoal grilling smell.”

Bold advertising move or smelly invasion? Unsurprisingly, PETA reacted and the whole ordeal was archived in bizarre advertising history. We’re pretty sure that one will stick in our memories for a while.

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Ford Motor Co.

Ford’s Lincoln brand has an exclusive, custom fragrance called Essence that “exudes luxury and warmth” as it wafts through select show rooms. “We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback about it, both from customers and employees,” says Tony Guerrera, general sales manager of Pompano Beach Lincoln. “It’s a great scent. They really did an excellent job creating it.”

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Abercrombie & Fitch

If you’ve ever been inside one of these stores, you’ve probably been introduced to the scent of “Fierce,” their signature men’s cologne. The cologne is sprayed consistently throughout the store by a scent distribution system. Unfortunately for A&F, one major study has proven that scents like theirs may actually cause anxiety in shoppers. Pair that with the store’s dark lighting and loud music, and many customers have reported negative associations with A&F. All the while, the retail chain argues that these sensory marketing techniques keep their brand associated with a young demographic that is “classic, good-looking and cool.”

The lesson here is that scent can create an immediate, powerful response and instant recall. Make sure it’s associated with positive experiences, and don’t let the “eau” become too “ew.” Creating this association between a scent and your brand can be an effective way to keep your brand at the top of mind for customers when triggered by your signature scent. Consistent positive experiences can generate positive reinforcement and lead to return customers.

Do you have any scents tied to a memory, especially that of a particular brand? Share with us in the comments below!

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