Olfaction in Marketing Communication

A few days back, I was greeted with a pleasant fragrance at the door as I came home from my morning walk. I grabbed the newspaper lying in front of the door and went inside. I sat down to read newspaper with a cup of freshly brewed filter coffee. Nothing can beat the aroma of coffee. But strangely, I could sense the fragrance that greeted me near the door again, even stronger than the coffee. I wondered where this was coming from. It was emanating from the deodorant ad that appeared on the front page. I am sure most of you in Bangalore who subscribes to Times of India experienced this.

As product managers, communicating value to the customer is one of the most important things we do. We communicate to our customer mostly through visual, aural and written communication. This product, however was communicating value through fragrance. Although I had experienced this several times in the past, looking at it from a product manager’s point of view where a brand communicates value through olfactory means was new, at least to me.

Intrigued, I looked up on the internet to know more about this. It seems there is a big difference between the way our brain handles other senses like sight, sound, taste and touch. They are all routed through Thalamus. But smell bypass the thalamus. Once detected by the receptors in the nose, they are routed to the olfactory bulb as part of the limbic brain. The olfactory bulb is connected to the amygdala and the hippocampus. Amygdala is responsible for managing emotions while the hippocampus handles associative learning.

Too much biology? I thought so. However, what I understood was that the emotional part of the decision is facilitated by the Limbic brain,and the rational aspects of decision making is facilitated by the reptilian brain. The amygdala decides what to remember based on the emotional experience. And the sense of smell, gets directly registered in the limbic brain. James Heaton brilliantly articulates the role of reptilian brain and limbic brain in marketing in this must read article. I must also say that during this journey, I also came across some posts which quashes the neuroscience part of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle theory.

The journey became more interesting as I started looking for the term olfactory branding on the internet. As I explored, I started connecting how Hotels & Resorts use a distinct scent as part of their branding. Olfactory Logo is custom scent that brand managers create to associate the fragrance with the brand. This scent is used along with the logo. Repeated exposure to the scent ensures a strong association promoting the brand association. I can any day associate the fragrance on an Emirates flight to the Emirates brand!

I remember a few colleagues of mine working on a concept called “scent top box” almost a decade back. Other than that I have not come across technology products that use olfaction. This led me to start looking for olfaction in technology and the first search result was the Digital Olfaction Congress 2016 to be held in Tokyo this December. This conference has some great topics around digital olfaction. The mission of this society is to “…To create devices which can Capture odors, turn them into Digital data so as to Transmit them every where in the world…”. Imagine the possibilities when digital olfaction meets IoT?

What if olfaction can be stored, transmitted, released digitally? Imagine the possibilities of how the world of marketing would change with digital olfaction? How would a world where digital communication is restricted to visual, aural and written means be like if olfaction can be communicated digitally?

What started as a quest to find out more about the newspaper ad that used scent to promote its product, ended up in discovering so many new things about Olfaction. Share your thoughts on this journey and when you have some time, take a quick look at the references.


Featured Image Courtesy : Dennis Wong

Why You Need a Scent Logo



http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/08/06/smells-trigger-memories.aspx https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olfaction http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/d/d_05/d_05_cr/d_05_cr_her/d_05_cr_her.html