Got Smell? Ads Target Customer Noses


coffeeThere’s not much doubt that a multisensory ad approach could, if done well, outperform one that appeals only to one sense. Indeed, the Scent Marketing Institute thinks that business will be increasing spending on aroma-based advertising. One current effort is for some California gas stations to spread the aroma of coffee near the pumps to encourage consumers to fill up their travel mug in addition to their gas tank. I’m a bit dubious as to how well the pleasant aroma of roasted or brewed coffee will mix with the pungent odor of gasoline that one generally finds in the vicinity of the pumps, but it certainly makes neuromarketing sense to push that hot button while you’ve got a captive audience. (Listen to the story at NPR.) As with junk mail and telemarketing, though, some consumers resent marketers reaching into their nostrils…

In San Francisco, the milk marketing folks decided to attempt an indirect approach to scented marketing. If you can smell milk, it’s probably not a good thing, right? So, they decided to permeate the air around their “Got Milk” bus shelter ads with the aroma of chocolate chip cookies. Interesting idea, but the campaign only lasted a day before the city ordered that the smelly ads be removed. In Freshly baked ads are toast, the SF Chronicle noted that the “environmental illness community” objected strongly to the ads.

Although California in general and San Francisco in particular are likely to have greater numbers of unusual activist groups, marketers planning on using scent will have to contend with some negative reactions wherever they go. It’s difficult to “narrowcast” aromas, and even aromas that are pleasant to most are likely to be offensive to some people. More generally, chemically reproduced scents are likely to somewhat less pleasant than the real thing, like the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Even so, marketers shouldn’t abandon the idea of scent-based ads completely – I’ll be very surprised if some of them (like the coffee aromas near a place that sells freshly brewed coffee) don’t prove to be effective.

Mobile marketers may want to keep tabs a newly-patented cell phone from Motorola – the “Smell-o-Phone” releases an odor by heating gel packets in the phone. We know marketers like pizza restaurants are interested in texting ads to nearby consumers – what if they could accompany the ad with the scent of baking pizza?

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