Will Smith

Intern - Research, FutureBrand

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Given how evocative olfactory memory can be, is it just a matter of time before brands use the power of smell to sell products?

I'm not referring to cosmetic products and the like, which naturally rely on their scent to sell the product. I'm referring to the potential for brands to develop their own scent.

To me, this would herald a new age for advertising. We all know that wonderful feeling when we smell something which triggers an emotion, or sparks a memory in our mind. Smell is certainly the most invasive of the senses, and yet seems to be the one, unexploited avenue in terms of marketing products to the masses.

Does anyone believe that brands will begin to use the power of smell to sell?

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    Mar 11 2011: Will - your question is interesting "My real interest was specifically in whether or not it would ever prove useful or viable for Brands to create their own uniform scent in order to further promote brand awareness."

    I am a scent designer specializing in brands. Creating fragrances to capture the brand identity has been my work for the last twenty years. This is a powerful market, most brands do understand and use scent - and many companies are asking the question what does their brand smell like. This April I am speaking at FUSE in Chicago to educate brands, marketers, companies, what colour smells like and how it is integrated into the human aspect of a brand. AS well research has been in the forefront in this area for over 25 years, Nike was one of the first companies to prove scent adds the perception of greater value to a product, simply because the store was scented. Ethics - won that argument in California 6 years ago. Debra you are correct that scent can backfire but brands know it is the design and quality of the fragrance. I have been scenting spaces - all over the world for years.
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      Mar 15 2011: Well I guess that comprehensively answers that, then! I'm delighted it's happening, just saddened that it wasn't quite as original an idea as I'd thought!

      Thank you for your answer!!
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    Mar 21 2011: Please do not mess more with smell in public places!!!!!!
    (It is enough with sounds and sights).
    We (humans, as a species) are way behind in ground research about how we use smell (in relating, choosing food and so on) in comparison to what the commercial powers are up to.
    The olfactory nerve ends are located high up in the nose, but they are a part of the brain....
    So many new chemicals are released that we live in a extremely diluted man made soup of them. And if we suddenly realize that one ore some of them were extremely malevolent we would have trouble taken care of it.
  • Mar 8 2011: Real estate sales people have known for years that if you put a couple of drops of vanilla in a warm oven before showing a house, it creates a very subtle background smell of bread baking, which help to instill a warm, homely feeling in the minds of the potential purchasers. Many products use the real or artificial smell of lemon to connote "clean" and "fresh". Coffee roasters know not to waste the smell but to direct it outside to the sidewalk where people will inhale it and get the urge for a cup of fresh hot joe. It seems to me that smell is already widely used to sell things, and that its use can only become more widespread.
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      Mar 8 2011: Interesting, I didn't know about the Real Estate sales people using Vanilla! I'm also aware that some supermarkets semi-manufacture the scent of freshly baked bread to increase bread sales in stores, and draw customers to a certain area of the store.

      My real interest was specifically in whether or not it would ever prove useful or viable for Brands to create their own uniform scent in order to further promote brand awareness.

      I wonder if people smelled (smelt?) the Brand Nike before stumbling across a Nike Shop, whether they might be more inclined to enter, whether the process be conscious or otherwise.
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        Mar 8 2011: So Will, am I understanding your concept to mean that each box of Nike shoes would be infused with a signature Nike scent that would not change over seasons? Would the actual shoes be infused with the scent as well over the longevity of the shoes to overcome stale odours? This might be a new idea for brand management. One that I did not come across in my MBA in marketing. It would help the consumer remember the good and the bad memories of lacing up their Nikes and it has the potential to create brand loyalty if it becomes associated with self esteem, good times, or success.
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          Mar 9 2011: Yes, that is the sort of line I was thinking. Also, I don't believe that the smell needs to be a pungent "fragrance", but a more subtle hint.
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        Mar 8 2011: This is a keen observation, and I suppose my best answer would be that it would be an inmeasurable variant because every single person reacts to scents differently. Overall, it may have some usefullness, however the margin for negative responses may also be quite high and this will ultimately show whether or not it can be deemed truly effective. The understanding that many facets of the sales world already utilize this tactic is very accurate, however, many of these areas can likely be viewed as 'controlled' areas. Whereas, using this, in say, malls, would be less controlled because of the amount of exposure to a wider range of people. This is not to say I am fully correct, for I may not be, but looking at it as if I were entering a mall, I would find it distracting and intrusive to be bombarded by constant scents that are manufactured rather than natural i.e. food smells from the foodcourt vs. a Nike brand smell in a store.
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          Mar 9 2011: Of course, the issue of whether the observation of the smell evokes a positive or a negative reaction has huge implications; very careful consideration would have to go into what the scent was, otherwise potentially a large part of the market could be put off purchase.
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    Mar 8 2011: I am sort of inclined to think that this will not occur, because so many brands come under fire currently for using scents in public areas i.e. abercrombie in malls. The main issue behind this idea is the health risks involved, being that there are already complaints lodged against companies and brands for their use of scents to entice people and the provocation of allergies. Plus, take something like pregnant women. How bad is it for them to be exposed to certain scents, posing potential risks to their unborn children? Not to mention the effect it might have on their bodies being that most women, when pregnant will experience either a hightened sense of smell and/or most usually, aversions to certain things based on taste and, more importantly, smell. I know it seems sort of trivial, but put together a handful of these examples and you have a pretty compelling argument against the use of scent-based adverstising. It is also very importanat to recognize that you can not control scent (not like film that can be covered up or strategically placed, or even taste which one must volunteer to use), thus, it is very difficult to provide a compelling argument to say that a scent may not watf into other areas, causing cross-contamination and other problems. Again, not too smart to subject the general public to. It is not impossible, but I would think quite difficult to pass as 'safe' and 'secure' as well as non-invasive for the general public. And yes I beleive they would be crossing a line into invasion of personal space.
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    Mar 7 2011: Used car dealerships have always used a deoderant that has a 'new car smell'. Some fashion stores actively brand their experience by spraying particular scents.
    The problem in using it for the masses is that the reason smell memory is so potent is that it is unique for each individual and is associated with particular emotional events. It could even backfire. One person might associate lavender with a kindly grandmother while another associates it with a miserable rejecting teacher.
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    Mar 7 2011: Stores are already doing it. They play not only with design and music, but also smell to attract you in and make you buy.

    I guess it could be applicable to brands, like LG Chocolate ;) my only ''issue'' here would be that if there is a store that carries a lot of brands, the smells will mix and provide a weird experience, to say the least.
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      Mar 7 2011: I agree with that assessment.

      My thinking behind the application of such a thing would be as follows;

      A brand (let's say Nike for the sake of argument) develops a single, uniform scent. They then use this scent around existing advertisements of theirs (such as bill boards, in dedicated Nike stores).

      Once the consumer (either consciously or sub-consciously) begins to associate this smell with Brand Nike, the scent could be used in a variety of places to bring Nike to the forefront of peoples' minds at appropriate moments.

      I certainly agree that if Brands were to employ such a system in general, in large department stores and the like, then there would be an awful lot of congestion and confusion, and ultimately it would probably make the shopping experience less pleasurable and drive customers away.

      But subtle use could greatly benefit brand awareness and coverage.

      I'm just not sure on the ethics of it!
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    Mar 7 2011: And additionally, do you believe that if brands were to start using smell to advertise, en masse, would this be a step too far in terms of invasion of personal space?