You know when you walk into a clothing store and immediately are hit right in the olfactories with a tidal wave of cologne? And the overwhelming power of the smell puts you back on your heels like you’ve been jaw-jacked by Manny Pacquiao? And no matter where you are in the world if you smell that smell your sense memory instantly brings you back to that store, even if it was an utterly unpleasant experience?
That’s scent marketing for you. And like the smell that is still burned into your nostrils, it ain’t going away.
Hailed as “the last branding frontier,” scent marketing is the act of pumping in specific scents through the vents of a place of business with the hopes that consumers will enjoy and identify said scent, thus spending more time and money at said business. It’s very similar to The Joker unleashing laughing gas all over Gotham City… only far more insidious and dangerous.
Scent marketing is now a thing in places that probably don’t need it. Signature scents aren’t just for actual human beings like Usher, Sean Combs, and Tim McGraw. (The fact that Tim McGraw has his own cologne is either a sign of progress or a sign of the apocalypse; I’m not sure which.) Hotels, spas, gyms, and even banks are considering using scent marketing as a way of standing out above the crowd. It is a way places of commerce can design “business environments” that will be memorable to the consumer.
Or they could just do their job really well and be remembered for that. That works, too.
Abercrombie & Fitch is of course the standard bearer for scent marketing, and what they are marketing is “douchebag.” I am sure there are people who love that smell but I have never known or seen anyone buy a bottle of the stuff. You really don’t have to – you can just walk around the store for three minutes and come out covered in it. Actually, you don’t even need to walk into one of their stores to smell it. You can be four stores away and still smell that certain “eau de douche.” BTW, that Abercrombie & Fitch scent that is pounding away at all five of your senses is called “Fierce,” which is a great name for it because the smell is enraging and will force people to fiercely heave a cinderblock through the store windows.
And even though technically you don’t leave one of these businesses smelling like sandalwood or well-worn leather, that scent remains in your nose and your brain forever, so it just feels like you do. You just can’t get rid of it. It’s like an earworm for your nose. It’s the olfactory version of hearing “Call Me Maybe.” (Enjoy that song in your head as you read this.) In fact, if getting more customers is the primary goal, why worry so much about what specific scent defines a specific store? If businesses really want to lure in customers they will pump in a scent that absolutely no one can resist… I’m looking at you, Cinnabon.
Some people are concerned about the environmental impact of scent marketing as customers may be exposed to chemicals that no one is really sure if they are safe or not since companies are not required to disclose what is in them. That is valid, but a minor concern at best in my opinion. What should be of bigger concern is the annoyance impact. No one needs to be bitch-slapped by a scent on the regular. We have our great-aunts who are a bit too liberal with the Chanel No 5 to meet that quota for us, and even then once a year is still too much. It’s sensory overload. If you are “trying to finish the emotion of a store” (PR babble for branding), well, first things first, stores don’t need emotions. They need good service, or quality products, or fair prices. Focusing on one of those will get you customers. Focusing on how your store smells will only get you mocked.