When Verizon introduced its Chocolate cellphone last summer the seductive aroma of chocolate wafted through its northeast stores, and customers sniffed out a good deal.
In 2006, when ScentAndrea, a scent marketing company in Santa Barbara, put chocolate scent strips on 33 vending machines in factory break rooms in Ventura (plus a sign that said it was Hershey's candy people were smelling) the brand's sales tripled.
And in 2005, when Exxon On The Run convenience stores in North Carolina highlighted a new brewing system with coffee scents from ScentAir, a scent marketing company in Charlotte, coffee sales perked up by a healthy 55%.
Just three examples of "scent marketing," the scintillating strategy that nosed its way into Advertising Age Magazine's Top 10 "Trends to Watch in 2007."
Stores and product designers devote countless hours and dollars to such matters as the color and shape of a package or the precise arrangement of items in the aisles of a store, the better to coax shoppers to linger, purchase and impulse-buy. Now, scent marketers say, it is time to turn to the nose. "Most marketing -- 85% -- is visual," says Harald Vogt, founder and chief marketer of the Scent Marketing Institute in Scarsdale, N.Y. "Scent marketing is the last frontier."
Already it is a $100-million business, and Vogt predicts it will reach $500 million or even $1 billion within the next seven to eight years.
Scent marketers say this makes eminent sense. After all, no matter how tempting a display of barbecues looks, you'll have a harder time passing it by if the aroma of meat on the grill is greeting your nose. Plus, who can deny the emotive pull of smell? One whiff of a scent can make a person laugh or cry, and exclaim with delight ("Those roses are lovely!") or disgust ("What have you been feeding the dog?").
And with the advent of TiVo and iPods, scent marketers argue that they're needed like never before. "The consumer now has the tools to block out the cacophony of advertising we are battered with daily," says Carmine Santandrea, founder and chief executive of ScentAndrea Multisensory Communications in Santa Barbara, the company responsible for putting scent in the Chocolate phone campaign. "At least we can make it smell good, and pull people into the message by the nose."
So confident of success are scent marketers that some, at least, are willing to put their money where their mouth is.
Santandrea offers a money-back guarantee that any promotion he runs will increase sales enough to pay for itself.
Science (much of it published in such tomes as the Journal of Marketing and Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services) is backing up the influence of scents on human shopping behavior. It has shown, for example, that scent can make shoppers spend more time and money in a store and make them pay more attention to a brand.
"You don't want to overestimate its effects," says Paula Bone, a professor of marketing at West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va. "It's really just a part of your overall marketing strategy." It also has to be done right: "The new-car smell is a really good smell -- but not in a shoe store," says Rachel Herz, a professor at Brown University and a consultant on the psychology and neuroscience of aroma.
But, taken together, the data suggest that the right scent at the right time when sniffed by the right people can make them more likely to walk up to a cash register, less likely to walk away from a slot machine.
Here's how our noses get us reaching for our wallets.
The ideal trigger
Suppose you're walking past a bakery, and you smell bread baking. That makes you hungry for bread, so you go in and buy a loaf.
It's scent marketing at its simplest (and most successful): You smell a scent connected to a particular product, and you decide to buy the product. For years, for example, Disneyland's Main Street confectionery store has been pumping candy aromas into the air outside the store from its "Smellitzer" machines.
But scent marketing's more subtle than that -- it also nudges associations in our brain between smells and other good stuff. Suppose you're house-hunting and you come to a house that smells like chocolate chip cookies, the kind your mother used to make. Suddenly you're remembering when you were a kid and your mother let you eat some of the dough. That feels good, so perhaps you buy the house. No wonder Realtors urge home sellers to bake cookies just before a prospective buyer comes knocking.
Many products don't have their own scent, of course. Scent-marketers want to market those scent-challenged products too. One approach is to give whatever product they're marketing its own "signature scent" and then patent that scent so nothing else can ever smell that way.
Any time you go to a Westin Hotel anywhere in the world, you'll smell the Westin Hotel signature scent. But you won't ever smell it anywhere else.