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Scent Marketing


Many firms use scents to influence purchases and reinforce their brands. Smells aim to create a pleasant shopping environment and encourage consumers to spend more time in the store. It is believed that the amount of time a customer spends in a retail store relates directly to the amount of money they spend i.e. the longer they stay the more money they spend. Scent marketing goes beyond spraying an air freshener to make a room smell nice; the choice of smell is based on specific research analysing what smells encourage customers to visit a store and purchase the products (on offer) once they have entered the store. The choice of smell will depend on the retailer and its products.

The diagram below shows the marketing results that can be achieved through scent marketing

Diagram showing how scent marketing works

Scent and Contextual Memories

Experts believe that a scent can trigger a memory of an occasion when a person last experienced that scent. The memory generated by the scent is known as a contextual memory and the scent is the cue prompting people to remember a specific or familiar situation. Other contextual memory cues include sounds, temperature, visual stimuli and a person's mood. Some marketing practitioners state that a context memory prompted by scents can generate emotions which encourage people to buy. The trick is to select a scent that will trigger contextual memories which seduce people into buying your products.

Scent Augmentation

Coffee shop chain Starbucks enhances the smell of coffee in its stores by injecting coffee smells directly into each store. The idea behind the extra coffee smell is to create an alluring smell customers expect in a particular environment. This is a similar strategy to hotels using scents in their reception areas to create an environment that smells fresh and clean; hotel customers expect a clean and fresh bedroom. Finally cosmetics retailer Lush knows how to generate a smell which hits your nose in the street before you even enter one of its stores.

Scent and Seasonal Purchases

Some retailers will use specific smells to represent the time of year when their products are purchased by customers. For example the smell of grass and vanilla may remind people of summer and encourage consumers to purchase summer clothing. Whilst Cinnamon will remind some people of happy Christmas memories and encourage them to carry out Christmas shopping in the store carrying the smell.

Relationship Marketing Through Scent

Research suggests that scent creates an emotional connection; marketing companies like ScentAir aim to build brand identity and further relationship marketing through scents. ScentAir have created specific scents for retailers including Calvin Klein, Mango and H & M. For retailers like Oasis they created a scent for the whole store whilst for Bloomingdale's department store they made a scent to match each department for example a lilac scent for lingerie and powdery scents for baby and infant wear.

Scent Marketing Ethics

There is debate as to whether scent marketing is an ethical practice as unlike advertising signs and traditional branding consumers are less likely to be aware of its existence. In order to be effective scents need to be subtle and this can lead to critics asserting that people should not be sub consciously influenced by scents. Whilst others say scent marketing is not any different to other “senses related” marketing activities.


Scent plays a complimentary role in marketing for retail environments; it is part of a package of measures designed to make a retail environment as comfortable and alluring as possible. This package includes temperature settings, ambient light and background sounds and music. Scent marketing completes marketing strategy designed to delight all of our senses sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste.


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