Scent Marketing: The Smell That Sells



Retailers are going through your nostrils to get to your wallet.
Dunkin’ Donuts wafts the scent of morning coffee through city buses. Domino’s printed heat-activated inks on DVDs of SkyfallThe Dark Knight Rises, and Argo that release the smell of pizza when the DVD player warms up, and bars can buy beer-scented darts for their dartboards. There’ve even been dog food-scented ads that are below the human smell threshold but are sensed by dogs with their thousands-times more sensitive noses.

Anyone who’s ever grocery shopped on an empty stomach knows the power of smell: the fragrance of roasting chickens as they take a turn around the deli department’s rotisserie; the fresh-baked aroma of yeasty goodness floating through the air of the in-store bakery. Supermarkets report a rise in sales of around 7% for fragrance-enhanced foods and Dunkin Donuts saw a 16% increase in store traffic and a 29% increase in coffee sales along the bus routes.

We’re lead around by our noses.
Food smells perk up the appetite, but it’s more than that. Your sense of smell is pure emotion. The other senses all pass through the rational filter in the brain, but smells skip the filter and instantly transport you to an emotional place. Your response is based in memories, and we tend to carry a lot of happy memories based around food.

Sensory marketing is nothing new.
Movie theaters have always relied on it to sell popcorn, and hotels know that if they pump a little bacon smell into elevator shafts in the morning they’ll boost their room service breakfast business. Amusement parks hide motion-sensing machines in the landscaping to spritz funnel cake or cotton candy fragrance when you walk by, and Cinnabon has built an empire on filling food courts with cinnamon-scented air.

Some recent applications have drawn attention for what many consider to be deceptive marketing.
Some fast food chains use frozen, precooked hamburger patties treated with a topically applied perfume that melts when they’re reheated and imparts the smell of freshly grilled meat. Supermarkets disperse artificial cooking smells that can mislead customers about what’s actually made on the premises. Even the Times Square Hershey’s store gives an artificial boost to its merchandise with chocolate-perfumed air.

What are you really smelling?
Artificial fragrances are in use all around us. A visit to the website for  fragrance supplier ScentAir gives you a sense of the scale of the industry. The company offers 1,600 different smells by monthly subscription from its fragrance library, and their market share alone represents 40,000 scent installations in more than 100 countries.

The practice goes by lots of different names–retail atmospherics, neuromarketing, sensory branding, olfactory marketing, scent logos. Whatever you want to call it, it’s probably making you spend more money.


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