Olfactory marketing: a trend that has flair?

Olfactory marketing uses smells to influence our buying behaviour.

Playing with your senses, brands have been doing it for a long time. But your nose, for its part, was somewhat neglected at first. It is only in the last few years that brands have understood the value of titillating your sense of smell. What is the point? To give you a sensory experience to influence your buying behavior and the emotional bond you have with the brand. But how can a smell penetrate so deeply into our brains to be used for commercial purposes? Together we analyze the machinery of olfactory marketing, an inspired trend!

First of all, let’s take a look at sensory marketing…

We did not have to wait to talk about sensory marketing before sight, touch and taste became part of the thinking of the brands to approach their customers. This concept really materialized at the end of the 1870s with the opening of the big Parisian stores. According to Aristide and Marguerite Boucicaut, the founders of Le Bon Marché, the modern consumer has to live a new experience with the product. This client would be able to see it, touch it, smell it, at the pace of a musical ambience. It was not until the beginning of the 1950s that marketers became interested in the impact of color and later of touch in purchasing behavior.

Since then, research and creativity have constantly evolved. Involving our five senses by creating a visual atmosphere or broadcasting music has become a standard in the fashion, beauty or wellness industry. Yet despite the growing interest of sensory marketing for professionals, the sense of smell remains one of the least exploited senses.

Olfactory marketing: the nose is the focus of main attention

Definition and appearance

For a long time, olfaction has been neglected by marketers who did not really know how to deal with the mechanics of smells. It was only in the 1990s that the term of olfactory marketing appeared. Some agree that this concept was first mentioned by the American psychiatrist Alan Hirsch. In 1995, he studied the behavior of players in a Las Vegas casino. It turns out that they spent much more in a scented atmosphere, with a light, floral scent subtly diffused near the slot machines. While this study remains controversial to this day, the power of scents on our emotions is well established. To read our full article on the influence of perfume on our moods, please click here.

According to the definition, olfactory marketing is the use of odors for commercial purposes. This concept affects all layers of marketing. The product itself can be scented directly, as can the point of sale to create an olfactory experience. Brand communication can also be reached through campaigns that use scented media.

A question of sense of smell

But why does it work? Quite simply because sense of smell is one of our most powerful sensory perceptions! Indeed, it differs from the other senses. It is directly connected to different areas of our brain that involve memory, emotion and affectivity. Smelling a scent, pleasant or not, can therefore trigger a multitude of more or less conscious reactions and sensations in us. Being in contact with certain smells can then influence our perception and behavior by reassuring us, or on the contrary by informing us of a danger.

Smell delivers a message that will then be recorded in our olfactory memory for the long term. According to a study by the company Smell Marketing, “5% of an auditory message is recorded, 15% of a visual message and 30% of an olfactory message“. An information that says a lot about the power of our nose… And the potential of olfactory marketing!

Experience under influence

Thanks to olfactory marketing, consumers will associate the smells perceived in a place with the customer experience they have had there. The diffusion of a perfume, like the decoration or the background music, will therefore contribute to creating an atmosphere. Without even noticing it, being immersed in a pleasant olfactory atmosphere will more or less make us lose track of time and will push us to extend our visit to the point of sale. Attracted by a scent, a visit in a boutique can also become an act of purchase. In all cases, olfactory perception will play a determining role in our behavior.

These brands that lead us around by the nose

The olfactory signature

More and more brands want to express their identity through a scent. They seek to use a recognizable and memorable fragrance to strengthen the emotional bonds between the brand and the customer. This is called the olfactory signature. Some companies and perfumers even specialize in creating these custom-made fragrances. Nowadays, we talk about the job of an olfactory designer, whose goal is to transcribe a brand’s universe in a composition. By diffusing this particular scent, the brand’s objective goes beyond the simple purchase, it wants to become a lasting impression and provoke a sensation of pleasure and well-being for the consumer.

Olfactory marketing for everyone

The retail, hotel and luxury sectors were the pioneers of olfactory marketing. White tea-based accords in the Shangri-La group’s hotels or virile scents in the ready-to-wear shops of Abercrombie… A few examples of fragrances that concentrate an identity and evoke different emotions. But nowadays, olfactory marketing has succeeded in convincing much more varied sectors such as the automobile industry (that famous smell of “new” that we love so much), banking, culture and many others. Even companies are getting into the scent business and spreading vitamin-rich scents in open-spaces to boost employee creativity and productivity.

The downward slides

If our sensory perceptions can unconsciously influence our behaviors, manipulative downward slides could therefore be possible. At this time, if the regulation on skin fragrances is strict, it remains unclear on this marketing aspect. More than a question of rules, it is a question of respecting a certain form of ethics. But in any case, it is clearly forbidden to mislead the consumer. For example, a bakery department will not be allowed to give off a good smell of warm bread, if it is not reheated or baked on the spot. So do not be afraid and open your nostrils wide!

So, olfactory marketing still has a bright (scented) future, and our noses will long be titillated! The next time you walk through the doors of a shop or an hotel, take a deep breath and train your sense of smell to recognize a scent that might influence your behavior…

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