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Big, Advertising Specialties, Dallas, TX

Breathe Deep… And Then Buy, Buy, Buy More

by Susan Morgan on April 16, 2009

There’s a certain unmistakable smell to the air this time of year… fresh and clean and almost vibrating with life… that is a unique (and oh-so-welcome) part of spring. And though our sense of smell seems to yield its place of importance to the other four senses, it is an amazingly powerful tool. Doubt this? Just think how fast the smell of rotten eggs (or a freshly made pizza) can make you move.

In the current shaky economy, businesses are looking for every edge, and many boutiques, auto dealerships and small retailers are considering scents as marketing tools. The thinking goes that a particular scent, attached to a brand or place, deepens the connection with the consumer. Some of the retailers who use scent today are giants like Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Macy’s and Lane Bryant, as well as more specialized shops like Hallmark, Guess? and Abercrombie & Finch. Anyone who’s been inside tween hangout Hollister can attest to the liberal use of scent (though not light) on the shopping floor. What’s more, stories like this one underscore how savvy marketers outside of retail are increasingly drawn to subliminal techniques to advertise — smell being one of the most popular and promising of all.

And unlike nearly 80% of advertising, smell is something you can’t block permanently. Adults breathe from 18,000-30,000 times each day. There’s no TiVo or iPod for smells, which is why this approach is so appealing. 

Science has long known that smells have an impact on us, in fact they’re tied to the center of the brain that deals with emotions and decision making. This sense can make us salivate… change our heart rate, attract or repel, stir memories… and quite probably make us buy things too. Not surprisingly there’s been lots of work done on the effects of scent on the consumer, with studies citing sales increases of 20-90% when some scents are used. The Scent Marketing Institute actually has a list of ten scents, and the powerful feelings they evoke. 

As an example of how evolved and popular scent marketing has become, a particularly busy Atlanta airport recently started dispensing a pleasing, relaxing fragrance known as “Breeze” — thought to elevate mood — throughout the facility. It’s been so successful that bigwigs have decided to have an exclusive scent created just for that facility. There are a number of companies like Air Aroma, ScentAir and Prolitec that work in the area of developing scents that stimulate the brain’s pleasure centers. Such stimulation puts you in a better mood… and the thinking is that this enhanced mood makes you more willing to buy.

Research has also found that scent impacts our perception of time passing and the size of a space. Scented products are often considered to be higher quality than unscented ones. What better time of year to stop and notice the smells around you… see the strength of the memories they evoke, the way they make you feel and act. Our sense of smell has a power we don’t even think about, though it can have profound influences on the things we do.

If you’d like to look into using scent in your own business, experts recommend staying away from candles (fire hazard), air fresheners (hard to control and offer limited selection of scents) or spray on perfumes (sticky) and looking at a professional scent delivery system. These either blow air through a scented substance, or spray small particles of fragrant oil into the air using your existing heating/air conditioning system. Lease of these systems can cost from $100-$150 a month as well as the expense of the refills… other prices can range in the $40 per square foot range. Smaller spaces may benefit from portable units.

If you use scent, remember… don’t overdo. Less is more. And be sure that using scent is appropriate and something your customers (or potential ones) will like. Always bear in mind that there are those with chemical hyper-sensitivities or medical conditions that may find a smell particularly unappealing. If scent marketing isn’t something you can do in your own business, at least you know that other businesses might be doing it to you. 

To learn more about the scent marketing industry and scent news, visit The book Whiff! The Revolution of Scent Communication in the Information Age is available through amazon.


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Susan Morgan
Creative, passionate and detailed, Susan brings 25-plus years professional writing experience to a variety of projects — get-noticed direct mail pieces, full line print catalogs, eye-catching color brochures and totally original. search engine friendly company blogs, web pages and online articles.

A lifelong love of storytelling has also produced a full-length novel (Out of the Ordinary published by booklocker in 2007). Susan continues to indulge her passion for fiction with a growing number of short stories (one an award winner in 2004, another in 2008) and finalizing a second novel.

In her spare time Susan enjoys gardening, studying astrology and tarot, being with family and friends and keeping up with politics and current events.

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