Marketing makes scents of olfactory connection

10/12/2020 - 13:00

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BGC Australia and Perron Group are among the businesses hoping to provide a sensory boost to the consumer experience.

Leigh Wolinski says the power of smell is underpinned by its connection to memory and emotions. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Smells may be invisible and fleeting, but they are among the most powerful forces on earth.

More than 40 million different olfactory receptor neurons in the brain contribute to that power, with smell considered the most persuasive of the five senses.

That claim is backed by studies that have shown how the sense of smell can play a significant role in the processing of memories and even lead to improved productivity.

The influential nature of smell is ingrained in how scents are processed. Unlike sight and sound, scent travels directly through various parts of the brain before being processed centrally.

 This is part of the reason why humans are more likely to remember something they smell instead of something they see or touch. Consequently, scent is believed to account for 75 per cent of a person’s daily emotions, according to Mood Media Australia.

And it’s the reason advertisers worldwide have spent decades seeking to perfect the art of leveraging this sense.

While it may come as no surprise that big players such as Apple and designer label Abercrombie & Fitch are among the major international businesses seeking to capitalise on scent marketing, Perth is no backwater in terms of this developing field.

Take the case of local entrepreneur Leigh Wolinski, who has spent most of his life in the real estate sector. Mr Wolinksi said he never thought (or knew) much about smell until a few years ago, when he was introduced to World Environmental Technologies (also known as WET).

Welshpool-based WET specialises in brand fragrancing and cleaning products, among other things, and after a stint assisting with marketing, Mr Wolinski said the interest in scents quickly grew.

Soon after, the business came up for sale and Mr Wolinski made an offer. He admits it raised the eyebrows of a few friends at the time (he had no formal experience in developing or marketing scents).

“It’s such an interesting business; I was drawn to the mechanical side of it, but also the delicate, psychology side of it,” Mr Wolinksi told Business News.

“Now it’s a complete obsession.” Mr Wolinski said WET had more than 20 regular brand fragrancing clients on its books, ranging from shopping centres, hospitality operators, apartment towers and hotels, to aged care operators, transport services and even abattoirs.

Each client had a different purpose for seeking out a specific smell, he said, but all motivations were underpinned by the desire to influence the human experience.

WET clients pay monthly instalments, with prices varying depending on packages and the business’s budget.

“When a client contacts us, they’re looking for one of a few things; we can scent for pleasantness, specific branding, odour masking, or ambience,” Mr Wolinski said.

“For odour masking, if someone has a smelly flat trap or pool chlorine in a building, we can’t stop a smell, but we can mask it.

“In aged care, we’re neutralising human confinement, which is what gyms also try to do.

“For retailers, you want to increase dwell time; you’ve got to slow the buyers down, because if they spend more time in the shop, chances are they’re going to want to spend more money.

“And when we’re doing fragrancing for pleasantness or ambience we can scent for brand identification, which is what we do with Crown Towers and BGC.”

Developing scents is not a challenge WET takes lightly, considering it’s claimed humans can recognise about 1 trillion different odours.

Additionally, studies have found that people can recall smells with 65 per cent accuracy after one year, in contrast to just 50 per cent of visuals after three months, according to the Sense of Smells Institute. Mr Wolinski said it was important the scents were not overpowering.

“We’re working on a subliminal level. You want subtle,” he said.

“The fragrance [we develop] is never masculine or feminine, it’s not warm, like musk, and it’s not cool; and you don’t want a minty or lemon smell because you start to taste it.

“What makes a smell pleasant or not pleasant is its intensity.”

Rather than diffusers, automated sprays or machines that emit waves of scents in intervals, Mr Wolinski said WET had developed technology (embedded into air-conditioning) that constantly delivered aromas as vapour, enabling more control over odour intensity.

Mr Wolinski said WET’s fragrances were designed and structured to be non-allergenic and low irritant.

And although there were no industry certification requirements, the business is aligned with Australia’s Indoor Air Quality Association.

Mr Wolinski with WET's fragrance system. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

“With smell, we call it sensational transference; that is your sense of smell transferring to your sense of perception,” Mr Wolinski said.

He said this was the case in aged care settings, which, despite strict cleaning regimes, often retained an odour of human confinement that could elicit perceptions of uncleanliness.

“It’s like an optical illusion, but it’s a nasal illusion,” Mr Wolinski said.

“Your mind is so wrapped up in the ambience of the place, you now perceive it as clean even though it always was.”

Scent marketing had gained traction in Perth in recent years, he said, with a host of case studies and major hotel chains, like Crown Towers, helping drive momentum.

“Studies into scenting have proven that, in one casino when they put a signature scent in, their figures rose by up to 46 per cent,” Mr Wolinski said.

“Perth is a rapidly evolving city and the level of sophistication from a consumer’s point of view has grown … before it would be: ‘Nah don’t worry, mate’ when we would offer a trial.

“Now it’s: ‘Well Crown has it, now I should get it’. They’ve started to see the benefits from it.”

Scents that sell

Believed to have been first used in the 1970s, ‘atmospherics’ is how the marketing industry refers to its manipulation of the senses to promote a product.

One of the earliest scent marketing campaigns involved the property sector, with the use of freshly baked cookies or bread, or brewed coffee, at a home open used to make potential buyers feel more at home.

Leveraging odours has become more sophisticated and targeted in the decades since.

For example, Nike reportedly found that its scent marketing campaign in retail stores increased intent to purchase by 80 per cent, while a big fuel retailer found pumping out the smell of fresh coffee increased its coffee sales by 300 per cent.

Bennett + Co principal David Stewart, a Perth lawyer who specialises in IP law, said there were just two scents registered for trademarks in Australia, both product related: eucalyptus golf tees and non-wood-based furniture that had a cinnamon scent.

Scent trademarks were difficult to obtain, he said, based on the requirement to demonstrate that the trademark didn’t describe the function of the good or service; there had been several failed applications.

Among these failures were an application for the scent of coffee for suntan lotions, and a trademark application for incontinence pads that had a: “Gorgeous and romantic scent in harmony with sweet-and-sour raspberry scent, graceful and elegant scent of Bulgaria rose and exotic scent of ylang-ylang,” Mr Stewart said.

However, the difficulty in providing legal protection for signature smells hasn’t deterred some Perth businesses, with WET operating a scent exclusivity agreement model with clients.

Block Branding co-founder and creative director Mark Braddock said awareness of scent marketing remained limited in Perth. 

“I can’t say that we’ve ever been approached directly about [smell] from a client, however, smell is something that is often tangentially discussed when we are talking of a total brand experience,” Mr Braddock told Business News.

Mr Braddock said what made scent appealing as a marketing tool was also its biggest drawback, pointing to a recent personal experience when he walked into a craft beer bar and revelled in the smell of hops, while his colleague turned up her nose.

“She commented on how disgusting the place smelled and I was shocked,” he said.

“It was a smell I associate with nights misspent in snug Edinburgh pubs in the dark of Scottish winters.

“The psychology and neurology of scent is fascinating; it’s direct connection to memory and the ‘old’, less-conscious parts of our brains means that one’s response to smell is unfiltered and very directly emotional.

“This makes it a very tricky area to navigate because our reactions to smell are very personal. So while a particular scent can trigger an extremely positive connection for one person, it can trigger equally strong negative associations in another.”

Block Branding was part of the team responsible for the refresh of CBD office building Central Park, developing the building’s new brand identity, with Woods Bagot suggesting the incorporation of scent as part of the building’s recent $16 million lobby refurbishment.

“For me it is less about the actual scent, but what it says about Central Park that they considered it at all,” Mr Braddock said.

“It says to me that this is a brand that is concerned at every touch point about the quality of your experience and will take every opportunity to enhance the experience.

“That to me is the brand story there.”

Investing in smell

Central Park is part owned by Perron Group, which held a formal ceremony for the launch of its newly revamped lobby space last month.

The office building is home to major companies including Rio Tinto, WeWork and Grant Thornton, with the refurbishment including changes to the functionality of the lobby, adding business lounges and a new cafe.

Perron Group asset manager Alwin Bax said the Central Park scent was part of delivering a new Central Park experience. 

“I’ve spent enough time in hotels to appreciate that welcoming odour that’s familiar because you subtly notice it each time you walk through the lobby,” Mr Bax told Business News.

“One of the objectives of our refurbishment of Central Park was to provide our community with a warm and welcoming space, but also to reconnect the Central Park tower with its namesake park.

“Many of the design decisions were made with that aim in mind; we’ve extended the greenery and we’ve improved the sight lines between the park space and the lobby.

“The scent decision was an opportunity to bring another element of that green space into the building.” Mr Bax said Central Park’s signature scent was based on a forest environment.

“It’s just a subtle reminder of the park, that connection we have with the park,” he said.

“We want the building to be somewhere that people want to be, and where they want to spend time; whether that’s visitors or our own community walking through the lobby.

“And the scent is just one element in that experience. We want it to feel a little bit luxurious but very welcoming and warm at the same time.”

Central Park’s scent was developed with a forest environment in mind, as a means to bring the outside in. Photo: Dion Robeson

BGC Australia may seem an unlikely organisation to throw its weight behind a signature scent, but the builder’s branded smell is surprisingly sophisticated and multifaceted.

BGC engaged WET as part of its $4 million investment into a new Osborne Park headquarters, complete with ground floor showroom, which opened earlier this year.

Showroom manager Laura Dawson said developing a signature scent was part of the all-inclusive sensory experience BGC envisioned for visiting homebuyers.

Everything in the showroom was designed to be tangible, she said, with visitors able to touch and feel different finishing components like taps, bricks and door handles, as well as use virtual reality goggles to ‘walk through’ three-dimensional floor plans.

“Scent is often a forgotten part of the journey, so we made it top of mind,” Ms Dawson told Business News.

“We wanted everyone visiting to be able to recognise the BGC experience and create a memory tied to it, which is closely related to smell.

“The signature scent is intended to create a warm, home-like feeling in the showroom.

It has notes of sandalwood, cinnamon and vanilla … reminiscent of home baking and sharing treats with loved ones.

“This further enhances the experience around the showroom in a subtle, refined way.”

Ms Dawson said as the signature smell was now exclusively owned by BGC, that provided an additional opportunity to create products.

“We have created candles with the intention of clients taking them into their new homes so that their journey with BGC can continue,” she said.

Reed diffusers and perfumes, Ms Dawson said, were some of the other ideas BGC had explored.

Laura Dawson says a signature scent forms part of the all-inclusive experience at BGC’s showroom. Photo: BGC

Other local businesses to have experimented with scent marketing include nightclub-themed gym S30 Studio, located on Hay Street in the CBD, and The Royal waterfront restaurant and bar in East Perth.

Perth Festival is another local organisation known to have creatively harnessed the power of smell.

The arts group introduced a distinct scent for the festival under previous artistic director Wendy Martin in 2016, when venues were infused with Western Australian sandalwood.

That dose of aromatherapy for audiences ran for four years, later introducing lemon myrtle in 2017, damask rose in 2018, and wonnil (Noongar for peppermint tree) in 2019.

Similar to the strategy of BGC, Ms Martin commissioned hospitality partners to play with these smells in their food and cocktail menus, with The Standard developing a lemon-myrtle gin cocktail and Chicho Gelato introducing a series of paired icecream flavours.

“Scent evokes such strong memories,” Ms Martin told reporters at the time. 

“It takes you back to places and people.”

That psychological pull is what Mr Wolinski believes will only continue to elevate smell as a marketing tool for years to come.  

“Whether it be calming or warming, the total immersion of a well-delivered scent is a significant branding trigger for clients,” he said.

“Because fragrances are not just smelled, they have a significant impact on our behaviour.”

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