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F&B Tip: Smell Sells...Really

Using shrewd scent marketing

Writing in the Financial Post, journalist Hollie Shaw observes that retailers (and restrateurs) are relying more on shrewd scent marketing. The reasons are obvious; people can only acquire information through their senses, so of course it's the senses that influence buying decisions.

Everyone has heard that realtors recommend home sellers leave baking bread or pie in the oven when prospective clients come to see a home. The smells are good enough by themselves, but at a deeper psychological level, the smells evoke emotions of home and comfort. But, is there evidence that the intoxicating waft of baked goods turn consumers into more impulsive shoppers?

Shaw writes: "A study in the February, 2008, issue of the Journal of Consumer Research suggests the aroma of chocolate chip cookies made women more susceptible to making unplanned purchases. Female study participants in a room with a hidden chocolate-chip-cookie scented candle were much more likely to make an unplanned purchase of a new sweater, even when told they were on a tight budget, than those who were randomly assigned to a room with a hidden unscented candle (67% compared with 17%).

"[This] experiment showed that participants were more likely to satisfy their current and spontaneous desire [to buy the sweater] if they were exposed to the unrelated appetitive stimulus before they made the decision," said study author Xiuping Li of the National University of Singapore.

Leather smell spurs car buyers?

Can the smell of new leather make you crave a car? During the 2010 Toronto Auto Show, the folks at BMW tried to woo car buyers with an unusual flyer handout. “JOY is an exciting new fragrance from BMW,” reads the text atop a soft-focus photo of a woman. By tugging a strip of folded paper at the side of the brochure, readers released a waft of leather smell. “We all know scent plays a huge role in creating memories,” explained Brent Choi, president of Cundari, the Toronto agency that created the piece. “So it could hopefully play a big role in influencing purchase decisions.”

"Popular in hotels and casinos since a study by Dr. Alan Hirsch in the 1990s, scent marketing is starting to waft into the store aisles at retailers, spurred by studies that indicate pleasant smells loosen people's inhibitions about spending money or might entice them to spend more. Dr. Hirsch, founder and neurological director of the Chicago-based Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, on separate occasions studied two banks of slot machines, one surrounded with an inviting aroma and another without scent. He found that there was a 45% increase in receipts in the scented area over the unscented control area, where the machines registered a 3% rise in bets, defining the study's margin of error."

The Europeans have used scent for hundreds of years but we are far behind in North America getting scent into stores and into the streets, particularly food [scents]," said retailing consultant Wendy Evans. "It was only a matter of time until people realized [scent marketing] could help, but you have to be really careful about what that scent is. Many more people now have allergies to fragrances to the point that [wearing perfume and cologne] is banned in some offices. But few people are averse to the smell of fresh-baked bread or chocolate chip cookies."

Olfactory strategies emerge in marketing

Shaw says the scent marketing business "...is blossoming, according to consulting firm Scent Marketing Institute of Scarsdale, N.Y., which estimates the scent marketing business will be worth $US500-million by 2016, up from $80-million in 2006. Business grew tenfold between 2004 and 2006 at ScentAir Technologies Inc. of Charlotte, N.C., whose client base ranges from the Las Vegas beach-themed resort Mandalay Bay (coconut spice), Sheraton Hotels (jasmine, clove and fig) and Jimmy Choo shoes (cardamom and ivy) to department store chain Bloomingdale's (baby power in infant accessories, lilac in the lingerie section).

"It has received the most attention from consumers (generally positive) for the signature fragrance it created to diffuse through high-end electronics store Sony Style, a combination of citrus, vanilla and cedar. Mood Media Canada, which opened in 2005 and has an olfactory catalogue of 300 to 400 perfumes, is the largest provider of scent branding in this country. Its clients include The Bay in downtown Montreal, Hotel Place d'Armes and Hugo Boss. It costs $5,000 to $10,000 to create a signature fragrance for a store. "It is getting much more popular in Canada for the brands because it's been proven to work," said Nathalie LeSage, a company spokeswoman.

"The olfactory is the strongest sense that the human has. What you smell is very key for your emotions and your comportment. But we don't do aromatherapy: We don't say lavendar increases your happiness and self-confidence. When you do a scent, it is really to create a specific atmosphere." In his study, Mr. Li concludes that if "retailers want to push their customers to shop more rather than stay longer, they should not only maintain a pleasant environment but also an environment full of temptations and excitement." Ms. Evans noted that while consumers might enjoy smelling a pleasant fragrance, they might be irked to know that scent is used as a marketing ploy.

"Consumers do not want to feel that they are being manipulated," she said. "People have looked for subliminal marketing cues for so long, it could result in breaking a trust that the brand worked hard to build." But Anthony Stokan, a shopping centre consultant and partner at Anthony Russell and Associates, is doubtful that tantalizing aromas will do a better job of opening a consumer's wallet than good merchandising. "A huge range of factors related to ambience will have an impact on buying behaviour -- lighting, scent, music, the texture in quality of flooring. The industry is always looking for a panacea that will fuel consumption. It would be a huge mistake to say this one element is going to drive business."

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