Have you ever been intoxicated by the scent of perfume in a hotel lobby?
Instantly, the place feels cleaner, more high-end and luxurious and probably affirms to your subsconscious mind that you’ve chosen your accommodations wisely. I mean, if a hotel lobby smells good, then it’s got to be a nice place, right?
Well, that’s what marketers are hoping you believe. And they’ve got science backing their wishful thinking.
Scent has long been a powerful influencer of perception and behavior. Scent historians credit novelist Marcel Proust for first noting the connection between scent and memory in his novel Remembrance of Things Past. In one passage, the narrator is flooded by a stream of memories after inhaling the aroma of cake:
“…and as soon as I had recognized the taste of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me … immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set … and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine.”
This prose marked the birth of the Proustian effect, or “the ability of a certain aroma to open a floodgate of memories“. And ever since, researchers have been studying it and marketers have manipulated it.
Scentjacking is not a modern marvel
Honest marketers would concede that scent-based marketing is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Smithsonian Magazine tells the story of Proustian-influenced advertising employed in the early 1900s, when marketers were just getting around to convincing people they, well, stunk.
Deodorant pioneer Edna Murphey hired ad agency J. Walter Thompson (who, coincidentally, are still a leader in scent-based marketing) to help craft the campaign smelled ’round the world:
“A woman’s arm! Poets have sung of it, great artists have painted its beauty. It should be the daintiest, sweetest thing in the world. And yet, unfortunately, it’s isn’t always.”
From Smithsonian Magazine: The advertisement goes on to explain that women may be stinky and offensive, and they might not even know it. The take-home message was clear: If you want to keep a man, you’d better not smell.
The advertisement caused shock waves in a 1919 society that still didn’t feel comfortable mentioning bodily fluids. Some 200 Ladies Home Journal readers were so insulted by the advertisement that they canceled their magazine subscription.
But they bought deodorant.
Fast-forward a few handfuls of decades to 1996 and you’ll find scent-based marketing was still going strong. As reported by The New Yorker, Tom Wolfe of the Olfactory Research Fund (dedicated to “establishing the positive influence of fragrance on human behavior’) tells a crowd:
“There’s no sense that reaches more deeply and suddenly into our emotional center – right into our solar plexus – than the sense of smell.”
And marketers smell cash
Recently, Nike has claimed that adding scent-based marketing to their stores increased intent to purchase by 80%. A real estate company increasing sales in a turbulent housing market at least partially credits scentjacking for their success. Bookstore browsers in Belgium stayed 40% longer when the store smelled like chocolate. Even a gas station with a convenience store attached tripled beverage sales after pumping in the aroma of coffee.
And back in 2006, the wildly famous “Got Milk?” campaign used scent-based marketing to boost sales by having outdoor ad creative emit the scent of freshly-based cookies – the association between milk and cookies driving consumers into a frenzied, craving state.
According to David Howes, author of the book Ways of Sensing: Understanding the Senses in Society, the scentaissance is in full swing:
“We’re seeing a rise in multi sensory marketing, whereby more of the senses – sometimes all five simultaneously – are recruited to sell a product. Hotel chains have signature scents; Starbucks has soundtracks to complement the flavor of its coffee. In the past most marketing passed through the aural and visual channels, and the other senses were neglected. Now the idea is that, with so much competition for consumers’ attention, no sense should be left unturned. – Slate.com”
Whether you’re breathing it in or turning your nose up at the thought, there’s one inescapable fact: we’ll soon get used to the smell of marketing in the morning.
Want more? Follow your nose:
- Resource: Scent Marketing Digest
- Article: Do Scents Make You Spend Dollars?
- Resource: Proustian Memory