More Senses, Higher Sales



What two senses get all the attention in advertising? Sight and sound. Print, broadcast, and digital media usually reach only these two, and often just one. In his new book, About Face, Dan Hill spends some time focusing on how reaching the other senses with your marketing can boost sales. Here are a few sensory snippets Hill offers up:


  • A study showed a 40% improvement in the mood of subjects when exposed to pleasant fragrances.
  • Subjects paid $10 more for shoes in a scented sales area vs. unscented.
  • Only 3% of Fortune 1,000 firms have distinct scents for their brands.


  • Skin is the bodies largest organ.
  • Touch has a profound impact on well-being: massaged babies add weight up to 50% faster than non-massaged babies.


  • People have 10,000 taste buds.
  • Marketers often ignore taste due to health concerns about tasting/ingesting something new.

Multisensory Engagement

Here’s the kicker: For products where a certain sense was dominant, e.g., taste or smell, Hill’s firm, Sensory Logic, has found that “the smell, taste, and touch of a product create an engagement level that’s three to four times higher than the engagement level stimulated by merely seeing the product being displayed.

Perhaps not every product is a candidate for multi-sensory marketing, but a little creative thinking can find ways to involve unexpected senses. Hill cites the example of Sony incorporating a bubble-wrap texture in bus-stop ads for its Playstation 2. While that textured surface didn’t feel like a game console, it did engage another sense for viewers. (And, perhaps it evoked a little of the excitement we feel when we unbox a new piece of consumer electronics gear.) Another example of seemingly unrelated (but effective) sensory branding is the oft-cited signature scent used by Singapore Airlines.

Taste is indeed a challenge. While food stores and restaurants can offer samples (simultaneously reaching touch, smell, sight, and taste), it’s more difficult for marketers without that kind of dedicated venue. Mailed or hand-distributed product samples are one popular method, but one firm, First Flavor, is offering Peel ‘N Taste strips that would greatly simplify the logistics of reaching consumer taste buds. (Of course, a little flat rectangle doesn’t do much for sight, touch, or smell.)

Whatever your product, it makes sense (sorry!) to get beyond sight and sound in your marketing.
[Image via Shutterstock]

  1. Jason says

    Another example of the use of scents: The Venetian hotel and casino in Las Vegas. Their casino level has a very distinct aroma. They also sell it in the gift shops as a perfume.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Hotels are a great venue for olfactory branding because they have a high level of control over the environment. Thanks for the Venetian info, Jason. I wrote about another hotel effort in Sensory Branding at Le Méridien. I’ll be sure to check out the Venetian when I’m in Las Vegas for Pubcon.


  2. Kyle Morich says

    We did a small experiment once with a popular drug store chain down the street to see if other senses could spur front-store sales. A lit vanilla candle in the candy aisle drove up candy purchase 12%. To prove that the effect wasn’t just aisle-specific, we lit a banana nut scented candle in the makeup aisle. Breakfast bars, cereal, and coffee sales (other end of the store) went up 13%. It indicated that the smells were priming customers to be more attuned to purchasing cues (e.g., banana nut evoked concepts of breakfast, which made shoppers more likely to consider the products in the breakfast aisle.)

    I think one of the reasons involving the other senses like Hill discusses has a much higher level of engagement is that those methods are so underutilized that our brains actually perceive them. The many marketing impressions aimed at us everyday are, like you said Roger, primarily sight and sound. I’d guess if more and more campaigns starting using smell, touch, and taste, our brains would adapt and start ignoring those stimuli as well.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      I’m sure you are right about these techniques being less effective with more pervasive usage, Kyle. Great info on the drug store tests. I don’t know why more retailers don’t make better use of scent marketing.


  3. Gabriele Maidecchi says

    Reading your post, I realize how ecommerce can be dramatically behind in terms of sensorial marketing. While Web3d solution like those my company develops can help bridging the gap between the impersonality of traditional ecommerce applications and “the real deal”, at this point I really wish that those news about smell-enabled USB peripherals were true already 😉
    I can however confirm that smell (even more than taste, in my view) is a very powerful ally, especially in negativity: I don’t remember having finalized any good deal in a bad smelling environment, do you agree?

  4. Mark says

    It always amuses me when scientists finally catch up with what most good sales people have known for ages.

    Real estate agents have been using the smell of coffee and freshly baked cakes to sell houses for decades.

    And that’s just one example.

    There’s nothing new here.

  5. Tony says

    While it is true that the mouth has around 10,000 taste buds, we can still only sense the 5 primary tastes, sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. The rest of the flavour, or taste, comes from our olfactory system.

    The most flavoursome foods would taste bland without our sense of smell so appealing to our sense of taste may be a waste of effort. Far more effective to work with the sense of smell.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Tony, although I wouldn’t discount appealing to taste, I do agree about the potency of smell. Research has shown a powerful olfactory-to-brain link, and marketers think that the sense of smell can be a key path directly to emotion.


  6. Tracy says

    Roger – Love your post as you know BUT I do disagree with one of your quotes -“Only 3% of Fortune 1,000 firms have distinct scents for their brands.” Really – what 30 companies do you have – my list is different.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Tracy, that number is from Dan Hill and his book About Face. Do you think the number is higher?


  7. Tracy says

    The number is incorrect – and I guess the question is who are the the top 1000 brands being referenced. What criteria warrants the title fortune 1000 – globally? I know at least 20 companies for example who would be on the top 100 that have custom scents associated with their brand. Was the aroma strategically designed as part of a sensory connection – for some yes – for some no – the aroma accidental in the development – BUT the number he refers to is too low. I find it frustrating – not by your self of course but many article – books – blogs are quoting inaccurate information on scent branding specifically. I completed a custom blend this summer for a firm – they are not top 1000 at all – but the point is many companies do ask the question what does our brand smell like? Many firms from all levels of business – companies do understand how powerful aroma is. If I read another story that starts with “the latest trend scent marketing” you will hear me scream!
    Cheers Roger – always love your work!

  8. Sergio - videos de bodas says

    it is also important to note that when we try to sell online should write so that the reader can “see” “listen”, “feel” the product or service that we sell.

    This has different techniques, one of them is persuasion, and “mind reading” to be matched to a sales letter in order to achieve higher conversions.


    Sergio Vergara

  9. James says

    Send offensive smelling candle/air freshener along with competitor’s branding material.

    This could make for a great political marketing piece. Maybe send picture of opposing candidate with rotten smelling scent -Councilman Brown’s backroom political deals just don’t smell right!

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