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Scents Make Sense: Using Smell in Marketing and Retail


 How can I best communicate scent in my marketing?

Scent is one of the human senses that evokes powerful, strong emotions and memories; as such, it's only natural that marketers would want to leverage this as a pivotal approach within a campaign or product's campaign. 

For instance, in 2021, Mastercard launched its "Priceless Perfume" as a way to use scent in its brand and content marketing. The scent was created by perfume designers at Firmenich, and as written in an ANA recap, "was comprised of two different perfumes, both gender-neutral, that individually evoked the characteristics of passion and optimism. Customers were able to buy the individual scents and the hybrid scent and were invited to layer them how they wanted to create their own personal scent."

However, what happens when a consumer can't immediately smell the product? How can a marketer convey smell visually and emotionally? The short answer? Congruity. This essentially means the idea, or memory, of a smell must work with other senses, such as color or sound. Creating cues, whether with a color or the idea of a memory (fresh sheets evoking childhood memories, for example, or the color orange representing citrus), helps create a tone and narrative. 

WARC wrote about this in a report recently, providing a successful example: "A poignant example is the famous series of film advertisements for the fragrance 'Si Passione' by Giorgio Armani featuring Cate Blanchett. The ad is a visual celebration of red in which the actress is seen wearing flamboyant red dresses or suits, and in scenes of daring independence (skydiving, flirting, posing). The vibrant red colours that permeate the ads are used to connote a fragrance that is alluring, provocative, exciting, and to be worn by those who value their sense of freedom."

The resources below provide examples of how brands are communicating scent in their marketing.


  • Making Scents with Sight: Perfume Marketing in the Age of the Face Mask. WARC, April 2022.
    Although consumers may be largely unaware of the influence of what they see on what they smell, we now know that every glimpse they take secretly contributes to their consumption expectations and choices. Exploiting cleverly designed visual cues which are congruent with the fragrance present throughout the consumption journey, both digital and in-store – the interior design, the product packaging and even the hue and tone of store lighting – can boost and enrich consumers' sensory experiences of fragrances in today's "new normal."

  • Smell that? Scent Marketing is Your Brand's Invisible Secret Weapon. 99 Designs, May 2022.
    Scent marketing, on the other hand, can (and does) include scent branding, but also incorporates branded scents into things like aroma billboards, signature scents, thematic scenting, and ambient scent marketing. And you aren't limited to using just one kind of scent marketing. You might develop a signature scent and use it as an aroma billboard, or you might put that signature scent to work as thematic scenting. Think about your overall marketing and branding goals when determining the most effective way to use the power of scent to connect with people.
  • Capturing the Hearts and Minds of the Consumer. ANA, February 2022.
    Nicola Grant, SVP of consumer marketing for North America at Mastercard, shared how Mastercard began to explore how it could show up beyond visual cues in response to the evolving relationship between media and the senses. Grant outlined Mastercard's efforts so far for each of the four non-visual senses, highlighting the brand's thinking and approach to each, and sharing how Mastercard continues to extend its brand across all the senses. See also Mastercard Moving into Fragrance.

  • The Smells That Make Shoppers Spend More. Business News Daily, December 2021.
    Smell has a strong link to emotion and, therefore, spending. Scent marketing and scent branding are complex strategies involving science and art, intended to enhance customer loyalty and spending. Using ambient scent can make a business smell good and has other applications, such as decreasing stress and anxiety.

  • Scent Marketing, the Sweet Smell of (Brand) Success. PR Week, August 2021.
    With more brands applying multi-sensory strategies, marketers are leveraging our sense of smell to tap into memories and aspirations. But there's much more to scent branding than simply perfuming a physical space. When brands are developing their scent branding, it's important to consider the four C's:
    • Customer: The scent should be designed for the customer. They should like it.
    • Concentration: Less is more. At too high a concentration, it can have a negative effect.
    • Congruity: Scent must work together with our other senses. It should correlate to as many environmental design elements of the space, like lighting, surfaces, colors, shapes, textures, and sounds. The perception of a scent can change based on other sensory stimuli.
    • Course: Scent, air, and the course a customer takes through an environment must work together.
  • Business Scents: The Rise of Digital Olfaction. MIT Sloan, May 2021.
    Put simply, smell sells — a fact that has long been understood by retailers, manufacturers, and advertisers. But despite the economic and commercial importance of olfaction, businesses have generally lacked robust tools to detect, measure, and manage smells in a scientific way. This is now changing with the emergence of two branches of digital olfaction technology: one focused on the digital detection and analysis of different odors, and the other on the digital transmission and re-creation of smells. These technologies could potentially revolutionize a range of industries, from fragrances and food to the environmental and health care sectors.

  • What Is Scent Marketing? Will it Benefit You? Aero West, April 2021.
    Each day there are invisible scent molecules swirling around you, shaping your decisions subconsciously. Scents are constantly etching memories of your experiences into your brain. You won't even realize it until one day you encounter the smell in another time and place, and you're instantly transported back to a memory. Studies show that people can remember a scent with 65 percent accuracy after one year. When molecules for a pleasant smell enter the olfactory system, the brain's reward center is triggered, leading to an overall higher level of pleasant feelings. Essentially, good smells make us feel happy.

  • Scent Marketing: Statistics, Olfactory Science, and the Industry. MarTech Zone, December 2020.
    Scent marketing incorporates a company's brand identity, marketing, target audience and develops an olfactory strategy that amplifies these values. This is often accomplished by infusing the scent into a retail establishment to influence the consumer's behavior. As with any sense, incorporating memories into the buying journey can stimulate engagement and drive the consumer or business to conversion. A peaceful, calming scent within a business meeting can keep people calmer. A scent that evokes a happy memory for a consumer can make a happier purchase experience. Here's a great explainer video from ScentAir, a leader in scent marketing, commercial diffusers, and the ambient scenting industry:

The Marketing Knowledge Center actively connects ANA members to the resources they need to be successful. You can visit the ANA website to engage with the MKC in three ways.

  • Explore content to access best practices, case studies, and marketing tools. Our proprietary content includes Event Recaps, which share actionable insights from conference and committee presentations.
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"Scents Make Sense: Using Smell in Marketing and Retail." ANA, 2022.