Mouth for Sale: In the Nose

Did you know that London's Heathrow Airport reportedly uses the scent of pine needles to calm stressed travelers? Or that New York's Lower East Side Tenement Museum uses a coal fire smell to make its restored apartment building seem more authentic?

These details come from Whiff! The Revolution of Scent Communication in the Information Age, a new book by C. Russell Brumfield, who spent 20 years with Wizard Studios, an entertainment, event, and experiential design company, and now runs Whiff Solutions, a scent marketing and branding company, with partner James Goldney. Brumfield is also a speaker who brings details on the history of scent marketing and its relevance in today's business environment to clients around the world.

Applications for scent abound, and while the hospitality and retail industries are already exploring their options, Brumfield believes sectors from academia to loss prevention to office design to the military can find valuable ways to incorporate scent in their efforts.

Scents can even be used to increase recall—a nice application for the meetings industry. When people smell rose oil while studying a particular topic and again while being quizzed on the subject, their recall and comprehension of the information can be increased up to 22 percent.

That said, "scent is not universal," Brumfield notes, adding that the three fragrances liked least by the Japanese are three of the favorites in Germany. "So you can't just say 'this is our universal scent.'"

Brumfield is keenly aware that some people are against the idea of scents altogether, because of sensitivity concerns. "My answer is that you don't get sick from almost all smells, because, for one thing, almost everything in the universe smells. You are bombarded by scent everywhere you go throughout the day," he says, ticking off everything from the newspaper to pets to soap and shampoo. "You don't realize it because you choose a lot of those smells and become immune to others."

He adds that those most sensitive to smells are likely to be Type A personalities, and people are likely to relate past negative experiences to scent, much in the same way that they link past positive experiences to scent (perhaps the smell of chocolate chip cookies reminds you of your mother baking on Saturday afternoons). "But most of these brands [using scent] have done a lot of research, and it's a highly regulated environment. If the complaints were there, they would be pulling the scents," Brumfield says.

For companies and organizations to most successfully apply scent strategies, they must determine the intended message, target audience, anticipated response, and delivery plan—all of which Brumfield explores with clients in an effort to help them understand how to move their business forward at a time when every step you can be ahead of the competition counts.

"It's an ancient language that we've ignored, and we are teaching people to speak in scent," he says. "Scent is not a novelty—it is a communication device."

Originally published Sept. 1, 2008

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