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No Sniffing Allowed During the Movie, Please

Advertising: United Distillers is testing the power of aroma to sell gin. Other firms also smell success in scented pitches.


For audiences at one British movie house, the traditional smells of popcorn and chocolate ice have recently been replaced by the odor of the finest juniper berries from Umbria, Italy.

Moviegoers at the Ritzy, an independent cinema in south London, have been taking part in a trial of Aromarama technology, during which juniper--the key ingredient in gin--is piped through the air conditioning while the audience watches a screen ad for the drink.

United Distillers, owners of Gordon's Gin, which is featured in the ad, decided to launch the experiment after tests showed that the sense of smell is the most powerful way to trigger positive associations.

"It's the most basic sense, and if you can get to someone's sense of smell, you really can change their behavior," says United Distillers' consumer marketing director, Andy Neal.

The company believes this marks the first time smell has been used in a cinema advertisement, although audiences have had their noses assaulted during four movies.

"Mein Traum" (My Dream), a Swiss movie premiered at the World's Fair in 1940, treated viewers to smells ranging from flowers to petrol. "Behind the Great Wall," a documentary produced in 1959, made use of scents that circulated through the ventilation system. In that same year, Smell-O-Vision was used to combat the perceived threat of TV: Fragrances were released from beneath seats in the Peter Lorre movie "Scent of Mystery."

More recently, director John Waters gave audiences scratch-and-sniff cards to activate when matching numbers appeared on the screen during the 1981 film "Polyester," starring Divine.

Over the last few years, British stores have started to use smells pumped through the air-conditioning system to help put customers in the mood for various products. Superdrug, a national chain of drugstores, uses musk and baby oil fragrances in parts of its shops, and it experimented with a whiff of chocolate on Valentine's Day. A chain of men's shirt shops has introduced the odor of freshly dried linen.

United Distillers is considering rolling out its Gordon's Aromarama ad nationwide if the findings of the pilot scheme prove positive. Neal acknowledges that it may be difficult initially to persuade the large movie-house chains to install the technology, but he says that, in time, being able to provide Aromarama could be a big plus for potential advertisers.

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