Outdoor sign makers are trying hard to stay relevant as the era of targeted mobile advertising approaches, and their latest move is to add scent. In Mooresville, NC, a billboard has been erected that, for parts of the day, emits the smell of grilling steak.

The scent component of the sign operates during prime commute times. It was designed by ScentAir, whose spokesperson described the aroma as, “a blend of black pepper and kind of a charcoal grilling smell…It smells like grilled meat with a nice pepper rub on it.”

At first glance, a billboard seems like an unlikely medium for olfactory marketing. Proximity would have to be an issue – typical scent marketing ploys use either an interior location or are aimed at consumers a few feet away. The fact that many potential targets are in sealed, air conditioned cars likely reduces the impact of the smell as well. The biggest issue, I’d guess, is that pumping fairly massive amounts of ersatz steak smell into the environment will annoy at least a few people, and a tiny minority will likely go bonkers.

Then again, this effort is likely a much better example of PR and social media use than olfactory marketing. A group of anti-fragrance protesters picketing the billboard would be just add charcoal to the barbecue, so to speak.

Now, if we added scent to talking billboards (see Directional Audio) and made them interactive (see Start Me Up: Brilliant Billboard), we might really have a powerful new outdoor selling medium!