Huge opportunity…scent-based marketing


I like to smell stuff…I admit it. They (you know, my good friends “they”) say that smell is the most powerful of the five senses when it comes to evoking memories. Dry California air and stale beer takes me back to college (in a good way). The smell of BBQ beef reminds me of when I was five and my dad’s Navy ship had “family day” and they served…you guessed it…BBQ Beef. Vendors at “Taste of Chicago” had their own smoky, fat laden aromas that make me miss summer in my old home town. Bengay or minty Rolaids remind me of summer at Grandma and Grandpa’s. Why, oh, why haven’t marketers done a better job of marketing with smell? I’m not talking about those annoying perfume inserts in magazines. I am talking about companies that market based on an emotional reaction using scents to tie their advertising back to a memory widely regarded as happy. Like this:


You are at Disneyland and you get on board your favorite ride “Pirates of the Carribean”. As the ride commences, you notice the yummy smell of coconut (or other Carribean themed scent). Six months later, you get a direct mail advertisement from Disney Cruise lines for their Caribbean cuise and it smells like coconut. So does the pirate toy your bought at Toys ‘R Us. The label on the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ CD has a scratch and sniff sticker (not matter what it says you know you are going to scratch and sniff that sucker). You can sniff away as you gaze into Johnny Depps dreamy face (oh wait, is that just me again?). All of this add on advertising dovetails off your initial “Pirates” experience. Why don’t brands or advertising campaigns have signature scents that work well within their target customer base?


Think about how incorporating a smell like baby powder into marketing pieces, POS displays, packaging could give people a sense of softness and comfort. How the smell of Dr. Pepper Lipsmacker could remind you that you are the most popular girl in the 6th grade. How the combination of hotdogs and peanuts makes you really want to kick the other team’s butt. And who has anything bad to say about nachoes, freshly cut grass, popcorn, suntan oil, a Victoria’s Secret store?


Now I am not sure that smells are going to sell a lot of software (but I do think there’s an application with nachoes and XBox…just a guess). But I think that marketers (especially consumer marketers), by and large, have missed the boat on a powerful marketing opportunity. And there’s a start-up idea for someone in there. I’ll be thinking about this while I stick my head in a basket of clean laundry and breathe deeply.

Comments (10)

  1. I once had an interview candidate tell me that he was so good at HTML that he could make my web pages scratch and sniff if I wanted him to. He didn’t get hired, but I loved the line. 🙂

  2. lukaszg says:

    Marketing with smell? I don’t know… at least with visual ads you can look away (assuming there’s something you can look at in your immediate surroundings that doesn’t have an ad plastered over it, which is still true for most places). With smell there’s just no escape. I know that the theory is that the smells should evoke good memories, but somehow words "unobtrusive" and "ad" just don’t seem to work very well together. Just imagine, walk into a grocery store and be assaulted by 10 competing smell ads. It does sound like an innovative marketing idea, I guess I’m just not that enthusiastic about the role and aggressiveness of marketing in modern world as a customer.

  3. Kyle says:

    I’ve always wished the makers of car air fresheners would get it right on the "new car smell." They never hit it spot on…

  4. Oh god I hate Dr. Pepper lipsmackers

    That’s why I buy my girl the Blue Raspberry Slush kind!

  5. HeatherLeigh says:

    Steve, that is a great line! I’ll have to remember that. Lukaszg-scratch and sniff is less obtrusive though, right? You could have to scratch before you sniff. I think that could still me OK. Kyle-agreed. I’m so sick of having to buy new cars to get that smell! ; ) Dale-funny, I have the blue raspberry one in my coffee table drawer (I know I need to grow up) and was just using it last night. But I still do love the Dr. Pepper.

  6. Valerie Stiller says:

    I used to work for a vending company and we were considering having the coffee vending machines emit a coffee aroma as you passed. We couldn’t get it to be a cost-effective option, however, even though we could nearly guarantee the pavlovian response to the scent of coffee.

    In general, the biggest problem I see would be the allergic reactions to perfume, nuts, etc. if it were used as a marketing tool.

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    Oh yeah, good point Valerie. I swear when I was in Chicago, some of the food vendors piped smell outside.

  8. John Sauer says:

    About five years ago a company called Digiscents started up in Oakland to do just that. Microsoft was interested in it, as was Sierra and Electronic Arts. The company got as far as a manufacturable prototype for both consumer and B2B, had code in games, and then their major investor pulled cash and they folded. I was lucky enough to do the technology marketing for them…it was a blast. Somehow, somewhere, someday…

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    John, that’s interesting. I assume they had a product developed? How did they deliver the scent?

  10. HeatherLeigh says:

    I just read in Fortune, that Lenovo released a cell phine in China that infuses a scent when it’s turned on. There’s a folder calle "femenine secrets" and I am not sure at all what that it. COuld it be filled with "black makes you look thinner" and "use bronzer only where the sun would hit"? Probably not.