The power of smell

The Spark

25th July 2017

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The next time you sip a Dirty Martini, Mojito or – if it’s the morning after – a Bloody Mary, how would you feel if the scent of Andalucía’s gardens ascended your nasal passage? Or how about the aroma of an autumnal bonfire as you pound your fourth Manhattan of an evening? Probably a little perplexing at first, right? But bear with me, as this concept isn’t one to be sniffed at.

The guys (the Wisnieski brothers) over at Alice & the Magician have produced a cocktail apothecary that is bringing our experience of taste to a new culinary plateau. 90 per cent of flavour comes from scent. 90 per cent. I bet you didn’t know that; I certainly didn’t. The Wisnieski brothers did, which is why the aroma makers, based over the pond in Vermont, have created a menu of edible aromatic mists and elixirs to complement the range of beverages that they serve up.

With over 150 recipes created so far, each ‘paired up’ to a cocktail serving, this sensory innovation is reuniting customers with meaningful or special ‘experiences’ that can’t be realised purely via taste alone. Smell is known to trigger memories and emotions and Alice & the Magician is looking to take advantage of that.

Scent and sensory marketing is anything but a new concept. It dates back to the 60s, though it has anything but fond memories. Dare I mention ‘Smell-o-vision’, the distribution of smells released during film screenings in movie theatres? It was fairly disastrous; incorrect scents were released, at the wrong time; scents weren’t strong enough. To its credit, it was hugely ambitious and is still being tackled today by the likes of the National Media Museum. But are consumers really that anxious to smell the gunpowder from a fired gun in a Tarantino movie? Or the sweat from Rocky V? Granted, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has its appeal, but movie-goers can do without it. Forgive the pessimism, but in that industry it’s a wasted concept.

The oPhone was another failed attempt. Honestly, Google it.

Now, FeelReal is looking to jump onto the virtual reality (VR) bandwagon by adding smell to our virtual worlds. Seven smells are included within its VR headset, allowing users to smell the burning rubber of a car’s tyres, the flowers in a field, the fire from a burning wood and more. Whilst it’s yet to receive anything close to resembling a rave review, you can understand the theory behind the concept and anticipate a successful implementation someday.

Retailers have often pumped various scents out of their stores to entice customers within and to retain them whilst they are there (Habitat, Nike, Lush, I’m looking in your direction). And that’s worked. Even if sometimes they’re artificially produced scents (bakeries in New York, I’m now looking your way), it’s pertinent to the consumer journey. Some brands have reported an 80 per cent increase in intent to purchase when they added scents to their stores. It makes sense.

Scent marketing has a prickly middle-ground; keep it applicable to the likes of food and drink and you’re golden. Try it with technology; TV, cinema and, for now, VR, and you’re going to encounter a poisoned chalice.

For now, the Wisnieski brothers have demonstrated how to get it right. They’ve kept it relevant, simple and effective for both their offering and audience. We’ll undoubtedly see more marketing failures in this space, but surely one day we’ll bridge the gap between scent marketing and technology. But who nose (*ahem*) when that will be.

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