The Smell of Success?

Posted July 2, 2014, under Ad Absurdum

We are all too familiar with advertising that uses gimmicks to get our attention. Most of the time it’s limited to what we see — use of arresting images, vibrant colors, and flashy lights is common — or hear, as with TV and radio ads being broadcast louder than actual programming.

Everyone, before the invention of the “mute” button.

We’ve collectively tried to ignore advertisers like they’re schoolyard bullies; but, contrary to what our mothers told us, they don’t go away. They just escalate to get your attention. For the bullies, that’s swirlies. For advertisers, it’s finding new senses to attack.

He Who Smelt It

Despite the fact that humans enjoy considerably less olfactory capability than basically the entire rest of the animal kingdom, our sense of smell is well-documented as being our most evocative. It’s the first of the basic five to fully develop — even before we’re born, our sniffers are formed and functional.

Broccoli again, Mom? Man, I can’t wait to move out of here.

Science has proven that smells call up emotions, memories and associations for far longer and with greater accuracy than other sensory input. People remember smells with 65% accuracy after a year, whereas visual recall is down around 50% after just three months.

But we don’t need science to tell us the power of smell. Anyone who’s handled a loaded diaper or walked past a bakery knows that! “Anyone” definitely includes innovators, inventors, entertainers — and advertisers.

Theaters have been trying to incorporate smell into their offerings as far back as 1906 — that’s before the introduction of sound!

We’re all familiar with perfume strips in magazines, because our sister’s Vogue subscription would regularly stink up the whole house. One can kind of give those a pass, because obviously the scent is the very product they’re selling.

However, the existence of these fragrance products revokes any hope of getting a pass, forever.

But use of scent in advertising in no way stops there.

There Are Ads That Fart Now

In 2012, a series of bus-stop billboards were set up in London, Manchester, Glascow and other U.K. cities, on behalf of McCain Ready Baked Jackets. We expect there’s some across-the-pond dialect at work there, because Ready Baked Jackets are a frozen baked-potato product. Anyway, these spud sculptures gave off the appropriate smell when people…stroked them, we think? It’s not really clear from the photos.

In 2010, a grocery store chain called “The Bloom” erected a giant billboard advertising steak. Which, y’know. Cool. But by now you have to know where this is going: the billboard also delivered the smell of steak. Even if you like steak, that really just does not seem appetizing at all.

It seems like these sorts of ads aren’t properly thought through. These are urban and semi-rural roadside ads. Think what other smells are going to be present in those environments, and ask yourself whether you want those cross-associations.

There are other issues, too. In 2006, CBS Outdoor used San Francisco bus stops as a proving ground for a very special addition to the “Got Milk?” campaign: scent strips that gave off the aroma of freshly baked cookies!

Nice, right? Who could complain about that? Well, homeless advocates, for starters. Then people pointed out that obesity and diabetes are kind of a problem in America and did we really want to encourage people to eat cookies? Because smellvertising is so much worse than all the other advertising that happens. Anyway, there was enough of an uproar about those ads that they didn’t last 36 hours. The official story is that CBS Outdoor took them down, but our money is on the mobs of townspeople with their pitchforks and torches.

Not All Bad

Maybe this stuff is only a problem in America, though. A couple years ago, Dunkin Donuts made headlines by piping in the smell of fresh coffee to Hong Kong commuters. The scent accompanied a radio ad, which name-dropped the corporation and pointed out that most train stations had a franchise conveniently located.

The campaign was a success, with sales in the area showing a 29 percent increase. It was a success for the ad company too, garnering them a Bronze Lion award at Cannes for “best use of ambient media.”

Far From Over

People are out there, still trying to make smellvertising happen. If they ever succeed, we’re going to need a whole new sort of ad blocker.

Rigney Graphics is a Pasadena graphic arts company that can help you create an impact with design and marketing solutions for print and web.