Smell for money

May 20, 2017 00:15 AM Usha Pokharel


I turned on my TV to catch the end of a commercial with a baby in it. It was an ad for men’s body spray
The smell after the first rains hit the perched earth has been my weakness since childhood. Later in life other smells like that of warm cookies, fresh-cut grass and salty air joined the ‘like’ group. I am sure others also like smells that evoke powerful memories and can alternately make them feel cozy and content, energized or just plain happy. Considering this, various companies have tried to connect scents with sales. Society marketers are selling products with anticipation of a signature sensory experience for the buyer. 

I am amazed at the ability of the advertising agencies to exploit the human weakness to smells and a desire for odor control. Scent experts are of the opinion that smells are more quickly and strongly associated with memories, as it is the only sense directly connected to the brain’s limbic system, which houses emotions and memories. Companies easily manipulate this fact to sell their products. According to a study in 2013, the scent of the ambience has a strong impact in getting a consumer to return to a store with an intention to buy. The television ads are powerful, because they represent a viewer’s visual perception of an experience of a smell that connects strongly not only to memory, but to their emotions as well. 

Granted, humans have the cognitive competence and can decide whether to be affected by ads. Yet we still we fall for them and buy things we do not need. Although the companies say that they are not forcing people but only presenting them with choices based on the consumerist-centered reality, the underlining message is clear: They want us to buy their stuff. Period. Although the effects of target advertising are mainly focused on particular groups of clients, it has an effect on those not targeted too. It is usual for unintended audiences to often view an advertisement targeted at other groups and start forming judgments and decisions regarding the advertisement and even the brand and company behind it. These reactions may affect future consumer behavior.

The other day I turned on my TV to catch the tail-end of a commercial involving a baby. Later I figured it was a commercial for men’s body spray. To me, using babies to sell adult products is disgusting. That reminded me of an older commercial with angels dropping as they were unable to resist a particular smell, and a punch line appears, saying something like, ‘even the angels start dropping’. I realized it was an ad for men’s body spray; an example of targeted advertisement implying that the compulsive smell of that particular body spray is difficult to resist! 

At the same time the unsaid words come to mind, ‘Go get it! What are you waiting for?’ Scent marketing is the latest trick used by product developers, with visual and auditory barrage that dominates advertising. These ads usually target young people as their sense of smell is sharp and they can remember smells more vividly than do adults. Developers use carefully tuned scents to lure customers into a sense of wellbeing that makes them feel good about themselves. Now you must be wondering as to how these companies anticipate likable smells. There is something called advertising research.  

They look at the things like history of sale of a similar product in the market, the kind of smell used for that product, and then they tweak it to make a new product. They also search for the vulnerable groups to target and the right models. So you will see new and popular actors doing advertisements for that particular target group. Currently that big target group is the youth. Use of the perception of smell is popular these days because it is very effective. 

I am sure you too have noticed that we have strong likes and dislikes for certain smells. We associate things, people or events with the way they smell. By now you must be saying, ‘I miss my mom’s special meat dish’ and when someone tries to replicate it, you will say ‘pretty close but not quite the same as my mother’s’. A smell is powerful enough to bring back a flood of memories, and even to influence people’s moods and their work performance. The way it works is that when we first smell a new scent we link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment. Then our brain forges a link between the particular smell and a memory. So when you come across the smell again, the link is already there, ready to elicit the old memory.  

Various smells bring on various memories. This link to brain’s emotional center makes smell a fascinating means for age-group targeted advertising. Be it they exotic fragrances or vanilla- smelling infant toys, all are targeted advertising. (Research indicates that infants smile and are happy to play with vanilla-flavored toys.) 

Finally, our life is very influenced by the ads on the TV. We are easily swayed by those commercials.

We all know that smells are powerful enough to change our facial features or our behaviors. This reminds me of the sweet-smelling bath soap or even detergent shown in the commercials. Just the thought brings good memories and anticipation of pleasantness of the fragrances promised by the product. Even though we do not want to watch these commercials, we are forced to bear with them while we watch our favorite shows. We can of course switch the TV off and take refuge in a book. Now that might not be a bad option after all, right parents? 

The author is an educationist and author of several children’s books

usha@pokharel.net

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