Scent – The Underused Communicator

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAScent is the second most powerful and evocative sense, second only to vision. Smells often sit underneath the surface of our sensory brain, always there, and always affecting our experience, interpretation, and judgments. However, scent is not necessarily on the forefront of our periphery, unless it is extreme. Sephora’s pop-up Sensorium featured a scent-less room where one could taste a lollipop (which in turn, tasted very bland) showing how tasteless food can be when smell is eliminated.

Moreover, and more specific to our PR world, smell has a primitive power that we can use to conjure up emotions – an effective force of communication in our industry. The human nose recognizes over 10,000 smells. Think of the possibility!

Psychologists have long-known smell and memory are linked in multiple ways. More recently, certain smells are proving to be associated with certain perceptions. For example, the smell of grapefruit tends to make someone be perceived as thinner by 5-7 pounds and also causes the wearer to eat less. As it turns out, the magnolia tree smells like wealth, The Wall Street Journal reported last month. This bit of insight comes courtesy of perfumer Frederic Malle, from Parfums Christian Dior heritage. Naturally, he’s bottled up a fragrance reminiscent of magnolia trees, available for purchase at his boutique.

Many hotels are scented to evoke an atmosphere. On a recent trip to Dallas for a client, I finally asked the hotel if they were pumping a fragrance through the air shafts. Every inch of the establishment smelled magical, in a clean, light way that made me feel refreshed, even after a long flight or late night. Indeed they were. Is it a coincidence that I love that hotel? Definitely not.

Why am I hot on the scent trail? Recently I went with my monthly Trendincite group to a custom perfume making session in the home of a seasoned expert, Sue Phillips of Scenterprises, who introduced us to seven major olfactive categories – Citrus, Floral, Fruity, Oriental, Chypre, Woody and Fougere. Sue discussed top notes, middle notes and base notes of each smell – a level of complexity which translates to the notion of telling a story with each fragrance, the notes representing a beginning, middle, and end.

Developing my own “story” was an insightful experience – we learned typical pairings of personality and fragrance category. Elements of my personality led me to smells I wouldn’t have predicted based on past perfume purchases. Apparently, florals aren’t my thing. Having one’s own “scent” is oddly empowering, though. Can a person be captured in an essence? Can a brand?

It’s about time we turn our clients onto the power of scent. Some marketers have wised up and leveraged olfactory power – food brands pumping bus stops with the smell of home cooked meals, for example. But there’s a lot of whitespace available. Even if the push isn’t related to smell alone, visual stunts can be supplemented by smell. Breaking through doesn’t only have to be verbal or visual. As Elle Woods says in the successful romantic comedy, Legally Blonde, when handing in her resume – “Oh! And it’s scented! I think it gives it a little something extra, don’t you think?” A lot extra, Elle.

Photo credit: psychology.about.com

Sarah is a VP of Insights & Strategic Planning, working closely with team leaders to catalyze the planning/creative process and develop key research-based and target-relevant insights that help lead to clear strategic vision. In essence, people fascinate her and she figures out what makes them tick so brands can intersect with consumers in a meaningful, mutually profitable way. Recently named to the 2015 Forbes 30 Under 30 List in Marketing & Advertising, her focus on millennials has become a core area of Ketchum expertise. A committed cultural enthusiast, it’s hard to find something that doesn’t interest her. You can follow Sarah’s random musings on Twitter @sarahjane047, PSFK, and her blog, So Five Minutes Ago.