Wake up and smell the potential why good business scents make good business sense

Ever wondered why those supermodels in fragrance commercials are always so extravagant and dramatic? They pout, they wince, they mourn, they frown, they smile from ear to ear, all in the space of about a minute, expressing a wide range of emotions, andall for a fragrance?[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”5466″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” el_class=”s-padding-bottom”][vc_column_text el_class=”s-padding-bottom font-size-20″]

The marketing behind cologne is of course often a bit dramatic, and one can be tempted to pour scorn on the whole thing, or even mock it in one’s own commercial, as Old Spice did, very successfully in 2010.


However, it’s worth pointing out that while we are more than aware of the often overblown publicity that comes with cologne, it’s because cologne commercials are attempting to capture and depict something almost impossible to capture, let alone recreate through sound and vision: smell.

Smell is a very very powerful sense, and one that, in terms of marketing, has only been tapped into more recently. But why? Brands and retailers have only in more recent years began to utilise this sense in the same way they always have done our other senses. Visual marketing is vital for retailers, as are the sounds customers enjoy whilst shopping, and (especially more recently) you might have noticed music playing as you do your festive shopping. So lets get our noses into why smells are just as important.

This article will take a more detailed look at the science behind smells, have a sneaky peak at some of the brands using scents to improve sales and even a look at the downsides to utilising smells in retail, with some considerable implications.



In spite of the fact that we know a great deal about visual merchandising, visual and audio advertising, there seems to be far less attention paid to our sense of smell, something which Nobel Prize winners Richard Axel and Linda B. Buck point out:

“The sense of smell long remained the most enigmatic of our senses. The basic principles for recognizing and remembering about10,000 different odours were not understood.”

You read that correctly. 10,000 different odours. We recognise and remember 10,000 different smells, meaning even those already using scent marketing are still only skimming the surface of the potential to tap into this incredibly powerful sense.

Think about the most powerful images we’ve grown accustomed to. The most powerful sounds.

Advertisers evoke and pay homage to powerful iconography often, and although the first iconic sounds we think of might be something by Beethoven, Mozart or The Beatles, even small, seemingly insignificant sounds have found their way into the popular psyche. TakeThe Wilhelm Scream, for one.


As Humayun Khan points out, studies have even suggested that men and women react to supposed “feminine” and “masculine” scents differently, with each gender preferring stores where the scent is suggestive of femininity and masculinity, respectively.


Now we know this isn’t just a hunch, let’s take a closer look at some of those that are tapping into its potential.

Nike reported that “adding scents to their stores increased intent to purchase by 80%” – that’s not an insignificant figure, and in the same article he describes the figures as “outrageous.”

So if a clothing giant like Nike can maximise the potential of scent marketing then surely the most seemingly blatant industry of all that could capitalise on its power is the food industry, I hear you interject. You’re not wrong.

The Wall Street Journal reported that bakery chain Cinnabon “places ovens near the front of its stores so the enticing smell of warm cinnamon rolls escapes when oven doors open”, and that “bakeries are intentionally located in malls or airports, not outside, sosmells can linger.”


They even went as far as to admit “putting ovens in the back of stores at a test location “significantly” lowered sales.”

Retailers even now have a range of scent consultants they can use in order to help maximise the potential for scent marketing in their stores. Companies like ScentAir and Air-Aroma specialise in providing scented solutions for businesses.


Although as we can see the benefits are potentially huge, scent marketing does come with some, albeit slight, risks.

The Independent ask the question of whether or not scented marketing is even ethical, “particularly in the case of businesses selling food.” They also point out that it’s only through generally positive associations do smells become all the more powerful in out minds. Thus should any negative experience become associated with a store’s smell, there’s the potential to lose customers, rather than win them over.

Meanwhile Entrepreneur reported that certain smells in a retailer’s store “could be giving shoppers serious anxiety” down to the fact the scents used don’t provoke open spaces or comfort.

It’s a tricky one, but if pulled off, could have serious benefits.

But what about the other senses? We’ve had visual, audio, audiovisual, and now smell. could touch be next? As technology and our awareness of the potential to market to our ever more sensitive sensory organs, we might even at some point have something that blends them all. But who knows what that would look like? Or smell like, for that matter.

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