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RESEARCH INSIGHT | How to In-“Scent”-ivize Your Customers with Ads

The Research

Scented ads have been around for decades, frequently used to promote perfumes. More recently, advertisers have begun to use scents to promote a more diverse set of product categories, like air freshener (e.g., Febreze), cleaning (e.g., Clorox) and personal care (e.g., Old Spice) products, and even products that have little to do with scents (e.g., Fiat infused ads with mint to promote the new 500 series edition). But how effective are they? Can scented ads change the way consumers react and respond to the promoted product?

Across several studies, the authors find a consistent pattern of effects: Under certain conditions scented ads can increase appeal and preference of the promoted product as well as willingness to pay higher prices.

The reason behind the power of scented ads is in the sensory makeup of scents: They are comprised of molecules that at some point were dispersed from their emitter, for example, a soap bar. Thus, when consumers sense a soap’s scent, they essentially inhale tiny pieces of this soap itself. Inhaling this tiny part of the product makes consumers feel that the product itself is physically close, which makes it more appealing.

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What You Need to Know

  • Scented ads are most effective for advertising products that are expected to have scents, like liquid soaps or candles–even when the scent of the product is not particularly pleasant (e.g., Procter & Gamble’s Clorox).
  • Under such conditions, it does not matter whether marketers draw consumers’ attention to the scent.
  • Conversely, scented ads do not increase product appeal if the scent, even if it’s pleasant, does not correspond to how consumers expect the promoted product to smell.
  • Finally, scented ads are somewhat less effective when encountered simultaneously with the advertised product such as at the point of purchase or in show rooms. When using scented ads in such settings, it’s better to place or distribute them in a location that does not overlook the product.
 

Abstract

Prior research on the use of scent in advertising has shown that scent can enhance the memorability of and engagement with an ad. However, can scenting an ad also change the way consumers perceive and react to the advertised product? This research provides new insights for this question and demonstrates an additional facet of scent: its ability to physically represent the essence of a target product and thus induce a sense of proximity. Through six studies, the authors show that scented ads enhance consumers’ sense of proximity of the advertised product and consequently increase product appeal. In line with the proposed visceral nature of the effect, this effect holds even for unpleasant scents but is contingent on the scent’s ability to represent the advertised product. The effect is weakened when the product is physically close. The findings of this research have implications for when and why firms should use scented ads.

Ruta Ruzeviciute, Bernadette Kamleitner, and Dipayan Biswas (2020), “Designed to S(m)ell: When Scented Advertising Induces Proximity and Enhances Appeal,” Journal of Marketing Research, 57 (2)), https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0022243719888474