Target Market: Your Nose

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These days, the business world is up to its nostrils in fragrance. BusinessWeek reports on the trend of using “branded scents” in every corner of industry–including retail, real estate and hospitality. The idea is to elicit some unconscious behavior from the customer, like buying lingerie in Victoria’s Secret or feeling extra-cozy at a Marriott Hotel, by pumping a carefully chosen smell into a space. Having long mastered sight and sound, marketing experts are now manipulating our least-understood sense to gain an edge with consumers.

Neuromarketing argues that first-time smells–the olfactory system’s virginal whiffs–“merit a unique status in our brains” and form much stronger neural associations. In other words, we remember strange or never-before-encountered smells better than everyday odors. Thus, they conclude, “a scent intended for branding use should be unique to be memorable.”

An interesting experiment, and an exception to Neuromarketing’s above rule, is using the familiar backyard smell of grilled steak to lure commuters to the supermarket. United Press International reports that a Charlotte company called ScentAir created a billboard with high-powered fans that waft a savory aroma along River Highway during morning and evening rush-hour. “It’s basically a blend of black pepper and kind of a charcoal grilling smell,” the company’s marketing director told UPI. “It smells like grilled meat with a nice pepper rub on it.”

Good’sSiobahn O’Connor is intrigued and worried about companies hacking our sniffers: “For one, the fragrance industry is secretive and trades largely in toxic chemicals that are known allergens and likely hormone disruptors . . . Second, the chemicals used in fragrance are anything but environmentally safe . . . Third, subjecting people (often without their knowledge) to fragrances that affect their emotions and behaviors strikes me as a slippery slope.”

And too bad for you: We won’t tell you what the Utne Reader‘s branded scent is. It’s a trade secret.

Sources:BusinessWeek, Good, Neuromarketing, UPI

Image byEvil Erin, licensed underCreative Commons.

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