06 September 2005

Concerning magical parfums

Reading over a link on Mark Vanderbeeken's blog, Putting people first, led me to an article entitled "Smells Like Brand Spirit" on Fast Company's website. Scent is interesting in that I believe they'll find that they can create a more appealing (addictive?) experience for their customers by appealing to the olfactory sense.

On the other hand, these marketing dweebs are trying to categorise scents the same way they do, say, a catchy jingle or piece of fashion:
Samsung, the Korean electronics giant, was conducting a test of its new signature fragrance in its Samsung Experience concept store. Researchers waylaid shoppers leaving the store to grill them on whether they thought the scent was "stylish," "innovative," "cool," "passionate," or "cold," and, more important, whether the scent made them feel like hanging around the shop a little longer.

And then:
SonyStyle store has staged a preemptive strike in the odoriferous battle, with a shop scented with notes of mandarin orange and vanilla. "We wanted to add one extra dimension to differentiate our store from the rest," says Christine Belich, executive creative director of the SonyStyle stores, noting that the company is particularly interested in attracting female shoppers to its 16 mall locations. […]

The idea of using a signature scent as a brand identifier has been slower to catch on outside the fashion industry (where certain retailers, such as Victoria's Secret, have long used fragrance as part of the sensory environment in their stores).

This is all fine and good if you're that desperate for customers that you can't just rely on product innovation and providing services people truly care to make use of. To many, this ploy may sound hokey, but the marketing monsters may be touching on something here quite potent and — until very recently — had been forgotten about in Western culture, aside from the fashion industry and use in magical and religious rituals.
While vision is unquestionably our most powerful sense, when it comes to garnering an emotional response, scent is a much more powerful trigger. "Seventy-five percent of the emotions we generate on a daily basis are affected by smell," says Lindstroem. "Next to sight, it's the most important sense we have." […]

According to the Sense of Smell Institute, the average human being is able to recognize approximately 10,000 different odors. What's more, people can recall smells with 65% accuracy after a year, while the visual recall of photos sinks to about 50% after only three months. […]

Dr. Eric Spangenberg, dean of the college of business and economics at Washington State University, ran a test in a clothing store in the Pacific Northwest to determine how scent affected customers by gender . He diffused a subtle smell of vanilla in the women's department and rose maroc (a spicy, honeylike fragrance that had tested well with guys) in the men's. The results were astonishing. When he examined the cash-register tapes, he found that receipts almost doubled on the days when scent was used. However, if he reversed the scents, diffusing vanilla with the men, rose maroc with the women, customers spent less than average. "You can't just use a pleasant scent and expect it to work," he says. "It has to be congruent." Similarly, he says, the fragrance has to make sense with the product or environment it's supposed to enhance: "When you go into Starbucks, you don't expect to smell lemon-scented Pledge."

In my lectures, I go into the writing of Diane Ackerman, in her A Natural History of the Senses:—

Smell is the most direct of all senses. When the olfactory bulb detects something — during eating, sex, an emotional encounter, a stroll through the park — it signals the cerebral cortex and sends a message straight into the limbic system, a mysterious, ancient, and intensely emotional section of our brain in which we feel, lust, and invent. Unlike the other senses, smell needs no interpreter. The effect is immediate and undiluted by language, thought, or translation. A smell can be overwhelmingly nostalgic because it triggers powerful images and emotions before we have time to edit them. What you see and hear may quickly fade into the compost heap of short-term memory, but, as Edwin T. Morris points out in Fragrance, "there is almost no short-term memory with odours." It's all long term. This is why perfumes and incense are so powerful in magical rites and operations, as they are not polluted by the control mechanisms of language from memory and affect us on the genetic, primal level, tapping a power mostly long forgotten. A connection to nature and the primal forces of creation.

Early in our evolution we didn't travel for pleasure, only for food, and smell was essential. Many forms of sea life must sit and wait for food to brush up against them or stray within their tentacled grasp. But, guided by smell, we became nomads who could go out and search for food, hunt it, even choose what we had a hankering for. In our early, fishier version of humankind, we also used smell to find a mate or detect the arrival of a barracuda. And it was an invaluable tester, allowing us to prevent something poisonous from entering our mouths and the delicate, closed systems of our bodies. Smell was the first of our senses, and it was so successful that in time the small lump of olfactory tissue atop the nerve cord grew into a brain. Our cerebral hemispheres were originally buds from the olfactory stalks. We think because we smelled.

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