Does fragrance marketing really work?

Irish hotels, car dealerships and even gyms are investing in “ambience scenting” in a bid to entice customers but does the way a business smells really increase our spending?

COFFEE shops and bakeries have long tempted customers through the doors nose-first but retailers of less fragrant goods also engage us with scent by investing in “ambience fragrances” that are customised to their business premises and brand identity.

Fragrance designer Raymond Matts is the creative mind behind some of the world’s most successful perfumes, including Clinique Happy, Tommy Girl and Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds. The former Estée Lauder VP for fragrance development visited Dublin last week on behalf of Ambius, an ambience, landscaping and interiors firm for which he now consults.

“Ambience scenting is about creating an emotional appeal to your location, something that’s distinctive and will be remembered in a positive way,” he says.

Matts stresses that this technique is far more subtle than the “aromatic billboard” of freshly-baked goods.

“We’re seeing studies that show when a space is not overtly but pleasantly scented, customers tend to linger longer and are more apt to communicate with staff. People looking to sell something have their attention for a greater time-span and are more likely to return.”

The limbic system (the structures of the brain that process smells) is closely linked to memory and emotion. “At least 35% of what we recall about an environment in the short-term is scent-based, compared with about 15% of what we see. Yet marketing campaigns still tend to be sight-led. I’m not suggesting scent is a marketing “silver bullet” but it is certainly a potent part of mix,” says Matts.

Unlike the “come and get it” scent marketing employed by the hospitality industry, ambience scenting does not affect what we buy so much as how long we mill about deliberating. Somewhat alarmingly, it seems to alter the way we perceive time.

In his 2005 book Brand Sense: Sensory Secrets Behind the Stuff We Buy, Martin Lindstrom reveals customers surveyed at the Galeries Lafayette in Paris claimed they’d spent 25 minutes in stores where they’d spent 40, while customers in unscented areas made far more accurate estimations. Fragrance Foundation president Elizabeth Musmanno says “the length of time a consumer spends in a store is directly proportional to the average unit sale per customer,” further weighting the theory that scent impacts on our wallets.

Fashion and luxury brands have been in on the act on for years, using fragrance not just as a marketing tool but as an entry product for mass-market consumption. Giorgio Armani mists a version of his bestselling personal scents through his boutiques. Abercrombie & Fitch (which also utilises Matts’ talents) wafts its signature Fierce fragrance through stores all over the world. The brand’s communications head goes so far as to attribute A&F’s commercial success to “what you see, what you hear and what you smell.”

Concrete figures showing that ambient scenting boosts profits are thin on the ground. Ambius points to a 2006 study that found ambient scenting of a casino resulted in a bar sales increase of 17.5% over a 14-week period.

“I’m often asked about the ambient scenting’s return on investment and I respond by asking what the ROI on the artwork in your lobby or your exterior landscaping is,” says Matts. “It’s about creating an environment customers want to stay in, enhancing brand identity and encouraging repeat business.”

Raymond Matts’ Design Classics

Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds, €64 for 100ml

“This was the start of my fine fragrance career, back in 1991. At the time, only Cher had been even moderately successful with a celebrity fragrance. This was the first to hit that one hundred-million dollar mark. Elizabeth Arden [distributors to House of Taylor perfumes] then brought me on board to create an entire line. Now anybody and everybody seems to have their own fragrance but very few are as successful as she was.”

Clinique Happy, €70 for 100ml

“This one felt groundbreaking when we released it in 1997. No one thought it would do well but it became the number one best-selling US fragrance that summer. At the height of its success, it sold over 100,000 units a month which at that price point was exceptional.” This sunshine-y blend of ruby red grapefruit, Hawaiian wedding flower and boysenberry bush is still irresistible.

Origins Ginger Essence, €54 for 100ml

“I was with Estée Lauder for 10 years and responsible for several different perfume brands during that time. If you look at most of my fragrances you’ll see there’s a lightness and freshness to them. I don’t use typical floral accords [blends of balanced perfume notes]. My design style has been described as impressionism because it’s so different from classic perfumery.” This invigorating mix of ginger flower, lemon, lime and bergamot is a prime example.

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