“Odours have an altogether peculiar force, in affecting us through association; a force differing essentially from that of objects addressing the touch, the taste, the sight or the hearing.” Edgar Allan Poe. It’s not enough to tell a story with words alone The importance of emotions in building strong relationships between brands and consumers is well-documented. But nowadays, it’s not enough simply to tell an impactful story with words alone… Marketers are increasingly finding that the most powerful emotions are those that are anchored in multiple senses – creating an engaging experience means knowing how to tell a story that uses colours, aromas, sounds and sensations as part of a multifaceted and multi-layered narrative. In a series of five articles, the Added Value team in Paris set out to explore the marketing opportunities that each of the five senses can deliver, as well as some of the challenges for researchers in isolating the impact of each sense on consumer response. In our first article, we put our nose to the ground for some olfactory insight… Our sense of smell is hard-wired to our brains To give you an idea of just how powerful our sense of smell is, let’s start with some figures. Our noses are equipped with 10 million individual smell captors. They can detect between 4,000 to 10,000 different smells, and 90% of what we perceive as taste is actually smell. Our sense of smell is the only one which is directly hard wired to our brain: there is no transformation of the olfactory signal (scent) on the way to the brain. Individual scents can trigger such strong feelings and memories because our sense of smell is connected with the part of our brain that handles emotions. Additionally, our sense of smell is a very strong mood shifter: smell perception can shift our moods quite easily in both directions (good and bad) and impact our decision making process:

  • Vanilla smells, naturally soothing, have been proven to make people feel more comfortable;
  • Peppermint and lemon seem to sharpen reasoning and improve work performance (somebody should tell our bosses this!)

And of course, our sense of smell is the only one that we can’t shut down as we can’t avoid breathing! Opportunities abound! You would think that such a powerful sense would be a go-to tool for marketers, but in fact, smell is the least commercially exploited of the five senses. It nonetheless has a great deal of cross-media potential: cinemas, printed press and laptops could all hypothetically harness the power of smell using various diffusing technologies. Indeed, innovations in these domains are appearing thick and fast in recent months: 2013 saw the commercialization of Madeline, a camera-like device that captures smells so that you can keep them as memories, while the Lab Store in Paris is selling a device called Le Whaf which can re-create almost any culinary smell through a perfumed cloud that you sniff through a glass straw. So how can brands deploy the sense of smell to capture the attention of consumers and tap into some positive emotional associations? Smell can overtake or even work in place of other senses such as sight: so instead of emphasizing a visual identity, brands could express themselves equally well with a unique olfactory signature, something which only a few brands have begun to capitalize on. Singapore Airlines consistently uses Stefan Floridian Waters, its signature scent, throughout a range of consumer touch points. The fragrance is worn by the cabin crew, added to the towels handed out to passengers, and diffused around the cabin. Although hard for passengers to describe with words, the bespoke scent is often associated with sophistication, discovery, exoticism, and a sense of Asian-ness. As a powerful and instantaneous mood shifter, smell also offers an excellent opportunity for tactical placement. Top of mind awareness can be obtained through smell thanks to the deep imprint it leaves in our minds: scientific studies have shown that people can recall smells with 65% accuracy after a year, while the visual recall of photos sinks to about 50% after only three months. The essential challenge for brands is one of coherency and cut-through However, the olfactory universe also presents brands with some challenges. An excessive number of scents at retail points can be off-putting to consumers. Mobile living and the multiplication of touch points can generate olfactory chaos, with consumers moving quickly from one touch point to another. On top of all this, our urban environments are likely to distract or even alter our natural olfactory capabilities. Scented air diffusers have boomed, but may be approaching market saturation – there are just too many smells out there for us to appreciate, little wonder that many of the recent innovations in the air diffuser device category are more about being able to regulate the delivery of the scent rather than about the scent itself. So the challenge for brands is to cut through this chaos and deliver a strong and consistent olfactory message. One of the best examples is from South Korea where Dunkin’ Donuts set out to increase their sales by playing the company’s jingle in buses whilst simultaneously diffusing the smell of the brand’s signature coffee. Visits to stores near bus stops grew 16 % and the chain saw a 29 % overall increase in coffee sales during the campaign. We also liked Nivea’s ‘Scent of Summer’ campaign which saw a 60-second advertising spot played in movie theatres accompanied by the diffusion of the scent of Nivea sun cream. Cinema exit polls showed a 515% rise in recall for the Nivea ad compared with movie goers who saw the spot without the scent. This is a great example of how scent can be used to focus the attention of consumers on a brand message. Finally, we were intrigued to learn about Disney’s two year quest to develop a fragrance that would embody ‘Imagination.’ The scent they created mixes wood scents, with notes of leaves and moss: essentially, the brand designed the scent of a world that could be Peter Pan’s. Scent is part of a brand’s unique personality So it seems that with a little thought and ‘imagination’, brands can rise to the challenge of creating unique olfactory experiences that will delight and engage their consumers. The challenge as researchers is to propose approaches which allow us to help marketers make the right choices when it comes to olfactory development and to measure the resultant impact on consumer engagement. The fundamental question we believe that needs to be answered is this: “Beyond the scent itself, what is it you want to evoke: how can you define the emotional mark you want to leave with people?” To know how your brand should smell, you need to know who your brand is – what is the personality that you are trying to communicate to consumers. So in addition to asking what does my brand say, think and do, we think brands should also be asking how does my brand smell? Once you are clear on what memories or associations you are trying to create and why your brand should be harnessing them (like Disney), then the means and devices for deploying the appropriate scent are already out there, ready to be deployed. If you think Added Value can help your brand harness the power of smell, please don’t hesitate to sniff us out. Written by Mark Whiting, Sandrine McClure, Directors, Alexandre Richard, Project Director, James Horton, Intern, Marina Cozzika, Public Relations. Image credits: Added Value Read more about how to use the other senses in market research: