Smell advertising describes the tools of interaction with customers, based on smell, scent, perfume, odors. I see three main areas of application of smell advertising: in-store, outdoor advertising and tech gadget based. And I cannot see a bright future for most of them.
Tech gadget based customer engagement based on scent is not spreading fast. A team of Japanese researchers has been working on developing a new system, the “smelling screen” (read more here), that releases scents into the air with directional accuracy. Others are working on developing cell phone apps and plug-ins that emit scents like flowers, food and spices (read what they are doing at the Mixed Reality Lab). There are a couple of major issues: tech manufacturers seem to be not so happy to include in their devices fans, cartridges and similar equipments to generate the scent and we wonder if consumers will pay an additional or premium price to have “smell” functionalities like sending the perfume of roses to a beloved via Facebook. On the other side miniaturization will help to embed new technologies into future devices.
Outdoor smell advertising already exist and has been tested in some towns around the globe. With different results. A big failure in San Francisco in 2006, when the ads included a scent strip that gave off the essence of fresh-baked cookies. Unexpected concerns about diabet, obesity, fear of allergic reactions and the impact on homeless people, made the ads removed after a few days. More recently a frozen baked-potato bus stop ad (releasing scent), in UK cities, performed much better (both stories described here by John Metcalfe). This kind of initiatives can generate good PR and increase sales in the very short term, but we don’t see many examples as of today.
In-store usage of scents and perfumes is not new at all and as the implementation cost is relatively small and technology progressing, it appears to have potential. We know that smell can unlock forgotten memories and connect emotionally to a brand or product, but at the Temple University’s Fox School of Business, they discovered more. Researchers found that smellizing — imagining a smell — increased consumers’ desire to consume and purchase advertised food products (their material is available here). The potential applications outdoor, indoor and on packaging are numerous. About the points of sales, recent researches published on the American Journal of Business show that scents are best at fighting anxiety when they create feelings of openness in crowded retail environments or coziness in minimalist retail spaces (read the material from the Concordia University). Increasing attention to the topic of smell can then effectively drive sales up.
Why we are skeptic about long term spreading of smell advertising?
First because of the media. When you see a video, for example of Rome, maybe broadcasted live from the “ethernal city”, you see the real Rome. When you listen to a Rolling Stone concert, you know it was the real Mick Jagger singing. When you smell a food scent at the bus stop, you know it’s a chemical replica of the original; it can be well done and extremely surprising, but in the end it’s a fake. Second, we have made a quick check with some friends and when we name the word “smell”, we see it’s associated to negative aspects (stink, pollution, the odor in the tube etc…) more often than to positive ones (perfumes, fresh food, spices, wine, flowers etc…); for sure we do not represent a statistical sample, but this may be related to archaic motives (men used the sense of smell to distinguish edible berries from poisonous ones).
Anyway, if we are wrong, we will report here successful smell based campaigns with a smile.
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