The rise of aroma marketing

Is your nose falling prey to stealth advertising?
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02.The power of aroma marketing

Aroma Marketing

Junji Hamano, a creative perfumer referred to as “a nose”, studied fragrance science in France and completed his practical training in the French perfume capital Grasse. Now working in Singapore for global fragrance company Ambi Pur, Hamano says that although each sense is unique, our nose has more than one characteristic that sets it apart from others.

Physically, our sense of smell differs on a very basic level because it can’t easily be switched off – you can close your eyes or block your ears, but it is very difficult to stop breathing in the air around you. 

On a neurological level, the sense of smell – also known as the olfactory system – shares a pathway in the brain that is closely associated with the limbic system, which is responsible for emotions, memories and moods. Smell affects the limbic system before it reaches the part of the brain responsible for noticing and identifying the scent. It’s the only one of our senses that does this.

Humans take an average of 20,000 breaths every day. To a scent marketer, each one presents a potential opportunity to forge a connection between a consumer and a product or environment.


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Scents and sensibility

Steven Semoff, acting co-president of the Scent Marketing Institute (SMI) and technical director at US-based Belmay Fragrances, says that while the industry is still in its infancy, it is growing. Founder of the SMI, the late Harald Vogt, told the LA Times in 2006 he expected the market could grow into a $1bn business by 2014.

And grow it has. The Annual Scent World Expo, held in Miami in December last year, saw more than 200 delegates from 19 different countries come together to discuss the potential of the nose – specifically, how best to enhance brand recognition using scent.

“If you look at the way brands promote, it is all about sight and sound,” says Semoff. “So many neglect the second-most important sense – smell – which is directly hardwired into the right side of the brain and allows you to develop an emotional connection to the brand.” 

In a casino, he says, marketers might opt for an “invigorating” scent to keep people alert, while in a hotel, smells that are “calming, soothing and comforting” are preferred.

Researchers from Gloucestershire University in the UK say smell is a very powerful element of unwritten communication, and capable, along with other carefully chosen ambient cues, of creating a strong sense of place.

Semoff believes getting scent right is all about understanding the demographics of a brand’s target audience. You may even have noticed variations of scent in your own shopping patterns – for example, the smell inside a mainstream clothing retailer is vastly different to that inside a luxury car dealership.

Scent palettes range from the fresh – think linen and lavender – to the earthy notes of cedar wood and sagebrush, and the more obscure aromas of burning rubber and even “dinosaur dung”. 

Semoff, who was once asked to create the smell of Shrek for a product exhibition aimed at children, says there is no off-the-shelf aroma suitable across the board.

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