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What Is Scent Marketing? And Should Your Brand Use It?

We know that there are five senses, so why do most marketing campaigns only focus on four?

Traditional marketing like television ads, billboards, and radio ads utilize sight and sound. When you go to the supermarket, vendors pass out samples to take advantage of your taste. And when buying makeup or face cream, we utilize touch to figure out which products feel best on our skin.

But what about smell?

It’s amazing how quickly scent can transfer us to a different moment in time. For example, simply smelling chocolate cookies might remind you of baking with your grandparents during the holidays. A specific cologne or perfume might remind you of a past lover or a former coworker. A candle might evoke feelings of the beach, mountains, or the fireside.

Scent marketing is incredibly effective because most consumers don’t realize that this is a type of marketing.

Think about it: When a salesperson tries to sell you something, how do you react?

Most of the time, we shut down immediately. We doubt. We wonder, “What’s the catch?” We’ve been conditioned to question marketing and pushy salespeople.

And this is what makes scent marketing so effective.

We experience it for ourselves – rather than being “marketed to.”

When we experience something first hand, we’re more likely to make the purchase. This is why car dealerships want you to test drive cars. This is why clothing companies want you to try their clothes on. And this is why grocery stores hand out free samples.

Consider some of the brands that use scent marketing.

Abercrombie and Fitch

If you were walking through the mall blindfolded, I guarantee you would still know the moment you entered A&F. Why? Because of the smell of cologne and perfume. Workers literally spray the scents throughout the store to build the sense of sex appeal and attraction. Couple that with imagery of attractive people wearing the clothes, and you have a strong sense of the crowd that A&F is trying to cater to.


Did you know that Cinnabon is always baking, even if there aren’t any customers? There’s a reason for this. The company has a policy to bake new cinnamon rolls every 30 minutes. They’ve found that baking in 30 minute intervals maximizes the smell of cinnamon rolls and makes sure that it “hangs in the air.” Most people would think that the scent is a byproduct of baking, which it is, but the 30 minutes strategy is a prime example of scent marketing!


Similar to Cinnabon, you’d think that the smell of freshly brewed coffee is a byproduct of visiting a coffee shop, but Starbucks has taken things to the next level. They’ve actually added coffee scent to their HVAC system, so the next time you notice the air conditioning or heater turn on, smell carefully!

Car Dealerships

The “new car smell” is something that we all recognize, but did you know that some car dealerships also add the scent to used cars? This is a subtle way to suggest that the used car has been well maintained and taken care of. Even if you’re buying a used car, you still want something of high quality. In other words, you’re looking for a deal. By adding the “new car smell” to a used car, dealerships are hoping to tickle your senses just enough to make the purchase!

Spas and Hair Salons

When you go to the spa, you want total and complete relaxation. This is why many spas have soothing background music and nice mood lighting. However, the best spas will usually use some sort of scent, such as essential oils, to help promote a calming atmosphere. High-end hair salons will also do this. They want to provide the ultimate pampering experience for their clients.

Final Thoughts

You don’t have to be a major brand or corporation to think about scent marketing. It’s another way to differentiate yourself from your competitors and to elevate the customer experience. It’s subtle – and that’s exactly why it works!


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