Smell has long been used as a marketing tool in retail, the most obvious being the perfume sampling by "spritzers" who aim their spray at you as you walk past the fragrance and cosmetics counters in department stores.
But smell is getting the recognition it deserves as a marketing and branding tool beyond the obvious fragrance industry. Robert Klara writes about it in his piece titled "Something in the Air" in last week's Adweek. Smell is the most powerful and emotional of our senses, the story says, and the surprise is that it's taken this long for brands to wake up to smell's potential.
It is used to set the mood in some stores, similar to the way music is used, except smell is usually much more subtle. A study from Germany more than ten years ago showed that smell can increase consumer perceptions of quality. A home improvement chain in Germany pumped the scent of fresh-cut grass into their stores and customers began rating the salespeople as more knowledgeable. Other more recent studies show that a pleasant smell can subliminally keep customers in the store longer, hopefully, increasing the chance of purchase. It also helps draw customers back more often for repeat visits.
"Scent triggers an emotional response and the customer builds an emotional connection to the brand" or to the venue that has the scent, says an executive of the Scent Marketing Institute, quoted in the Adweek story.
I know from personal experience how poowerful scent can be in creating an emotional response. As a teenager, I used to spend summer evenings sitting on the front stoop with my friend, discussing all the important things in life -- girls, cars, girls, religion, school, girls, as the sweet smell of the linden trees above filled our nostrils. Even today, 45 years later, when I pass the neighborhood and smell those linden trees, the memories come flooding back, breaking through whatever else may have been cluttering my mind at the moment.
If smell can bring back old memories so powerfully, then it can certainly cause you to feel good about a place or a product you associate with a good smell. Think of a "new car" smell and it triggers fond memories of a favorite car, even if it's from a new car you got, or your parents got, 30 or 40 years ago.
Finally, marketers are catching on, and the possibilities have a sweet smell to them.