Sensory branding: Smell

Uncategorized By Josanne Griffin-Mason, 15th January 2015

Cheeky brands enticing you to buy

Sensory branding is a technique that smart brands use to enable their brand to be registered by the body’s five senses. Not every company will utilise all five, but you can bet your nosebuds that the world’s top brands aim to.

When it comes to customer recall and product adoption, sensory branding is an excellent business strategy because it outperforms employing standard, visual techniques alone.

How it works

Anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of walking down a poorly chosen side road in central London will be familiar with the fact that one can’t turn off their sense of smell.

When it comes down to selling food and beverages, olfaction (the sense of smell) is a powerful force in evoking a customer’s desire to consume.

Why else does the rich, heady aroma of coffee fill train station platforms every morning? And the (somewhat less) opulent fragrance of grilled meat waft along Croydon High Street at 2am on a Saturday. Oh, and that distinctive breeze of pastry on a gloomy, icy December morning, which makes us want to consume our bodyweight in pan au raisin every time.

When we’re hungry or craving nutrients our nose becomes ultra-sensitive to the smell of food. But surely these smells are confined to the premises in which they are produced?!


Have you ever smelt a McDonald’s before you can see one? If so (and I’d wager a few McFlurries that you have!), that’s because McDonald’s restaurants’ ventilation and extraction systems are designed to permeate the distinctive smell of its food around the surrounding areas.

Like a siren’s song to a lonely sailor, McDonald’s will lure people to its yellow arches by the power of evocation.

Smell, it could be argued, is the most susceptible to manipulation because it’s the only sense we can’t turn off. And we can’t choose to ignore it either without pulling a childish pose with our fingers.

Has a smell ever taken you back in time, on a trip down memory lane? Just like emotions, smells leave bookmarks in our brains, pinpointing times in our lives.

That fabled new car smell? Sorry, but it’s from an aerosol can and is added to the car after it’s built, having nothing to do with the manufacturing process.

Samsung has also adopted the power of scent to sensorily brand its retail spaces. In its flagship store in New York, the smell of honeydew melon is pumped out from hidden devices in the ceiling, with the intensity of the scent dependent on the connection Samsung is trying to achieve.

As living creatures, we can’t help but react to what we sniff. Brands know this, and their aim is to produce a positive emotional response, be it desire, pleasure or hunger.

Ultimately, this increases a brand’s recall value with the consumer and (hopefully) secures a sale.

Making your brand whiff

A scent strategy may take some thinking, but once you’ve nailed it, you could be leaving a life-long impression on your target audience, as well as the attention of unsuspecting passerbys who may have otherwise ignored you.

To get you started, we’ve scribbled down a set of smelly ideas below.

  • If you operate from a retail unit, fit fans and scent diffusers to circulate your trademark odour throughout the shop.
  • If you run a restaurant, capture the attention of hungry passerbys by keeping your door open or installing strategically placed vents.
  • Infuse your printed marketing materials with appropriate smells – think zesty citrus scents for a fitness brand and calming sandalwood for a furniture brand.
  • Even if you’re just holding a one-off event, don’t forget the scented diffusers to instill some positive brand association in attendees’ noses and minds.

Of course, sensory branding doesn’t just stop at the nose. Bookmark Plug and Play for more marketing ideas as we work our way through the senses.