Scent Branding: A Hidden Form of Marketing

by | Apr, 2022

Authored by Austin, design intern

Olfactory branding is something that I just stumbled upon, and is more important than I thought it could ever be. Imagine walking into a brand new place, the first thing you do is look around. The
second, and more inconspicuous, is smell. That first impression of smell can play a huge factor
in a person’s attitude or feelings toward a restaurant, hotel, business, etc.

Every time we enter a new place, the smell is one of the first things we notice. Think about the
specific smells you get from certain places, like car dealerships, Starbucks, or stores like
Abercrombie and Fitch. This is by design, they want you to not only associate that smell with
their brand, but also use it to increase your chances of both purchasing and spending more
money.

How did it start?

In 1976, an AirForce technician named Mark Peltier was in the woods and noticed the aroma of
rain-soaked redwoods, ferns, and other earthy tones. He thought about how it made him feel
more calm and relaxed and wondered whether or not something like that could be brought inside homes. In the late 1970s, he created the world’s first scent diffuser. The first customers of scent
branding were hotels and casinos trying to reduce the smell of cigarette smoke, with a few stores
beginning to use it as well in the 1980s.

This was a completely new form of marketing that nobody really knew a lot of information
about. The early adopters, like casinos, that used it to rid their lobbies of that smoke smell began
to see an increase in revenue from the use of scents. In 1990, Dr. Alan Hirsch began to actually
test the effectiveness of scent marketing, starting with retail. He set up two identical stores, one
with purified air and the other with a floral scent. He found that people that went to the scented
room were not only willing to spend 10% more on products but also 84% more likely to
purchase in general.

And Now…

The scent marketing world has changed greatly. What started as diffusers that could provide an
area with an inconsistent, but effective scent has since evolved into an entire marketing world.
Stores, hotels, casinos, and even employers utilize scents to increase sales and productivity
within their place of business. It’s a completely hidden form of marketing that I had no idea
about. It’s interesting to see how far the marketing world will go. Businesses have already started
hiring professional scent makers like ScentAir (https://scentair.com/) to strengthen their brand
identity.

Thinking about Graphic Design and how influential it is for advertisement and overall brand
identity, I didn’t even think about how you could activate other senses in marketing. Brand
identity is becoming much more than just a logo.

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