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Monday, July 14, 2008

Smell Science in Everyday Life

Have read a good grounding book in aroma science as it applies to everyday life. More of a good popular science book than academic, but the author has written academic odor perception papers.

What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life by Avery Gilbert

Gilbert is attuned to the history of scent science, and gives outlines of how smell has been both understood and misunderstood. He covers the use and history of leveraging aroma in detail in Hollywood, Retail, Perfumery, Taste and Psychology. He also loves references to scent in literature, including Poe, Whitman, Dickinson, Hawthorne, Proust and a number of others. Along the way he gives a detailed history of scent evoking memory, and makes the case that it was not Proust that discovered the idea. Only a brief mention of Aroma Therapy. A mention of P&G's scent delivery player, Scentstories, now no longer available except through sources like eBay. Gilbert quotes some bad reviews of the device, but does not comment on why it did not succeed.

In chapter 9 'Zombies at the Mall', despite the implication in the chapter title, he does not make the case that the use of scent in retail is excessively manipulative. He mentions a company, Digiscents, he had consulted with that we also did a project with. They were attempting to digitize and transmit aroma descriptions on the web, but ultimately failed. He says that there are now a number of companies tailoring scent to the retail experience, but unfortunately gives little detail. I guess that his interesting experience there lies behind disclosure agreements. He quotes Brand Sense author Martin Lindstrom "All around the world people and companies are becoming aware of the power of scent." fMRI scanning is only very briefly mentioned with regard to how the brain reacts to scent.

Gilbert's direct (consultants) advice:

" .. Out in the real world, fitting a scent into a commercial context has always been a matter of style, taste and culture. It's what what perfumers and fragrance evaluators do for a living, and marketers are well advised to join forces with these experts. What marketers need to do is develop clear standards for success ... In short, marketers need a Nielsen rating for the nostrils... "
Overall, a very good introduction to the subject. I much enjoyed the history and literature asides, though some may think he went too far in these. I only wish he had spent more space on the retail aspects of delivering smell. Does a good job of linking psych findings to practical uses. What he did say there, that it was difficult to deliver, remove, focus and interpret scent, was not news.

See also Avery Gilbert's site.

Update: See comments, and the Scent Marketing Institute.


harald said...

Avery's book in fact is way cool and yes - you are right - what goes on in retail stays in retail (to use the famous pitch line). Still, by some the use of scent for marketing and branding purposes is considered "sneaky" and targeting the customer on the subliminal level is not what you want to openly talk about. It works, though, and that's all that matters.
Harald H. Vogt
Scent Marketing Institute

Franz Dill said...

Thanks for your comments. You make a good point. My own experience seems to indicate that consumers believe that this kind of merchandising is more 'sneaky', than other kinds. You could make the point that the color of packaging is just as influential.

Gilbert does discuss the issue of what 'subliminal' is, and how influential it can be.

There are 'neuroethics' groups out there today that are willing to bring retailers and manufacturers to task on this issue. So methods and use will eventually have to be revealed to address the 'zombie' tag that Gilbert uses himself. The better it works, the more likely there will be a problem.

Thanks for the pointer to the Scent Marketing Institute, which I assume will be speaking for the defense. Will explore it and post a review of it later.