Gleams & Notions

$cent Marketing

By Harvey M. Fishman , Consultant | April 3, 2013

According to a recent article in Smart Money, “scent marketing is becoming as ubiquitous as Muzak.” The author suggests calling it “Smellzak.”

A study conducted in Las Vegas casinos showed that slot machine players spent 45% more money in casinos that used scent marketing than in casinos that did not. According to a manufacturer that provides ambient scenting to approximately 30,000 locations including Goodwill stores and senior-care facilities, his business is increasing 50% a year. Meanwhile, one coffee shop owner reported that his sales increased after he purposely left his oven on so that his customers could continue to smell baked products. The smell made customers hungry and want to buy something, even if they just came in for coffee. Real estate agents may have been the first to utilize the sense of smell to their advantage. Years ago, they discovered that putting a pie in the oven and a sheet of fresh baked cookies on the counter immediately before showing a house gave potential buyers a sense of well-being and an image of idealized existence in the house. Today, in an effort to duplicate these natural odors, some liquid perfumes are vaporized by high voltage, low current electricity and dispersed through a building’s ventilation system. This allows for the precise distribution of minute concentrations of odor, not enough to irritate a customer, but just enough to trigger a mood.

However, marketing through smell remains a game of chance. Because the odor’s ability to trigger moods is based on memory, a scent’s power will differ from person to person. Some smell inclinations are cultural (like the American penchant for vanilla) while others are personal. An odor that’s too strong can cause negative reactions; an over-powering spicy orange scent in a Las Vegas casino actually turned customers away.

Casinos aren’t taking chances with profits, so they use fragrance to keep gamblers at the roulette table.
Another example of a failed scent campaign took place in California back in 2006 when a scent strayed from the specific product. At the time, the California Milk Processor Board launched a series of “Got Milk?” billboards in San Francisco bus shelters. The ads were typical except for their scent, which was the sweet smell of chocolate chip cookies.

While the Milk Processor Board hoped the scent would make people crave milk, city officials considered the ads a nuisance and ordered them removed. The public was concerned that the chocolate cookie smells could trigger allergic reactions. Unlike the realtor’s cookies in a model home, the scent was not successful in a bus shelter. I guess the smell of fresh milk is not distinctive—but the smell of sour milk certainly is.

Still, there are plenty of scented products out there for consumers who are interested in such things. One company website offers a range of scented options including direct mail marketing; magazine/catalogue advertising; pressure sensitive fragrance labels, scented stickers, postcards and other direct mail formats; greeting cards and business cards; scented product packaging, bookmarks, bracelets, hobby craft sheets, personalized stationery, cards, scrapbooks; seasonal products for Christmas, Valentines, etc.; delivering scent in retail or hotel environments; and fragrance counter samplers and dispensers.

Obviously, our world is becoming a bit more fragrant as company decision-makers come to understand the power of scent.

Harvey M. Fishman

Harvey Fishman has a consulting firm in Wanaque, NJ, 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.