Gleams & Notions

Powerful New Roles for Fragrance Notes

By Harvey M. Fishman, Consultant | January 4, 2010

Most products are sold based on their eye appeal, feel and claims.However, the sense of smell is also being used by marketers to attract customers.That trend is evident in a recent article in the St. Petersburg Times of Florida profiling Russell Brumfield, author of“Whiff. The Revolution in Scent Communication in The Information Age.”

Using aromas to attract customers is not new—car companies spray leather or so-called“new car” smells in their vehicles, and perfume salespeople try to spritz people shoppingin department stores.This is necessary, the author claims, because the viewing public tries to tune out the bombardment of ads on TV or in magazines by ignoring them or recording TV shows and zipping past the commercials. Drinking caffeine-laced beverages gives the imbiber a rush, but so too does the smell of coffee by releasing mood-altering endorphins. The olfactory system is the only one of the senses hard-wired
The right scent convinces shoppers to linger up to 40% longer and spend more money.
directly to the right side of the brain. The others are routed through the left side that interprets the stimuli. The author claims that a particular scent can be tattooed in people’s brains that will trigger an emotional response each and every time someone smells it.

Aromas can be used as sales aids by placing small scent machines in remote spaces or connecting them to air conditioning units in hotel lobbies and retail stores. Studies show that the right scent can get shoppers to linger up to 40% longer. The formula is that every 1% increase in customer dwell time adds $1 in sales per square foot. The author mentions that Samsung and Sony have signature scents now, and an orange scent was pumped into Tropicana Field when The Tampa Bay Rays were playing the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2008 World Series.

Brumfield, clearly an entrepreneur, suggests using scent machines in hotel rooms (instead of risking the fire hazard of candles). These machines pipe scent into a room through air conditioning, along with custom lighting and music.

The interviewer mentions studies of putting people in an MRI and wiring them to monitor blood flow in the brain to confirm the effectiveness of ad campaigns and scent marketing. It was found that the right scent does create an adrenaline rush that conjures up pleasant feelings of a store or product where it was first sniffed.

However, fragrance preference is anything but universal. What works in one country, may not work in another. For example, in one test, the aromas Germans disliked most—cypress oil, fermented soybean and dried fish flakes—were familiar to Japanese. Similarly, smells most disliked by the Japanese, including incense, sausage and blue cheese, were German in origin. Local preferences can play a huge role in a product’s success. Brumfield recalled a situation in which one scent increased apparel sales by 50%, while another caused them to drop that much. Tests should be run to determine the most pleasing aroma to most people.

Natural gas companies inject distinctive odors in their odorless product to detect leaks. Similarly, bags that explode dye on bank robbers can also leave an obnoxious scent to make them more obvious.

Other new ideas for the use of aromas as warning devices is an anti-kidnapping alert bracelet for children where a phone call triggers a GPS signal and a foul scent. The child will smell bad and thus be more readily recognized. Also, public building fire alarms might use scents that will awaken a deaf person from a deep sleep. Another possibility is embedding a scent in tire treads to release an odor when they are worn or too thin.

No doubt that the use of fragrance will spread, but concerns about allergic reaction linger. Brumfeld urged companies to use hypoallergenic compounds. For consumers concerned about being manipulated, the author noted that product placement in television shows and movies tries to sway consumers too.

The perfume and flavor companies, which are almost necessities in the cosmetic and food industries, now have a wider and more diverse market for their products.

About the Author
Harvey Fishman has a consulting firm located at 34 Chicasaw Drive, Oakland, NJ 07436,, specializing in cosmetic formulations and new product ideas, offering tested finished products. He has more than 30 years of experience and has been director of research at Bonat, Nestlé LeMur and Turner Hall. He welcomes descriptive literature from suppliers and bench chemists and others in the field.