Mars has recently used scent technology to spread the aroma of chocolate around its M&M's World retail outlets and put Pedigree dog-food-scented stickers in front of supermarkets and pet stores. Pepsi spread the smell of black-cherry vanilla with People magazine inserts and store displays for Diet Pepsi Jazz. There's also been a whiff of activity sniffed out at Kraft and P&G, but neither would comment.
And then there's Smellavision. Carmine Santandrea, CEO of "multisensory communications" vendor ScentAndrea, is putting 8,000 scent-delivery systems by that name into in-store flat-panel screens in Kroger stores and other top retailers, including Wal-Mart. In fact, Mr. Santandrea -- long a proponent of the sales-lifting ability of scent -- has dubbed 2007 "the year of the scent."
Media executives like the smell of that, even though they've in the past had spotty success selling the technology to clients.
Most primal of senses
"Our olfactory sense is the most primal of all the senses and is extremely powerful, much more invasive than reading or hearing something," said Jack Sullivan, senior VP and out-of-home media director for Starcom. "Why it's not used more often is beyond me." But he did offer some reasons: There's always the possibility that an olfactory campaign might offend, and "huge concern over people with allergies."
Cost and implementation hurdles have prevented Connie Garrido, president of MindShare sibling Wow, from going forward with media plans that involved attaching scent to transit shelters and bathroom mirrors. That said, Ms. Garrido said the agency is increasingly investigating scent for clients as media buying becomes "far less one-dimensional."
David Van Epps, president-CEO of ScentAir, which has just signed on with music and broadcasting service Muzak to offer scent wherever there is sound and video, said he's seen "exponential interest" recently from major package-goods players for his products, which include retail displays with scented cartridges triggered by motion sensors. But, he noted, there are hurdles.
Not always cost-effective
Even though the price has come down, it still isn't necessarily cost-effective to use scent technology for low-cost products such as bread or jam, where the sales lift would have to be incredibly high to ensure successful profit margins. "For a consumer-package-good play to work, it must be for a product where the aroma is crucial to the positioning," Mr. Van Epps said. And it must be clear what exact product a scent in the air is linked to; otherwise it can lift sales for the whole category rather than just the product that paid for it.
But the costs are improving. Tad Acker, president of display company Marins USA, said the units it sold to Verizon Wireless stores recently to waft chocolate scent for LG Chocolate phones were only $20 each, down from nearly $100 for such display pieces a few years ago.
The phones, according to Joe Fiamingo, manager-print and related services for Verizon Wireless in the Northeast, have been one of the most successful launches in Verizon history, and the scent played in that success. How much? "Enough for me to try it again."
Gail Stein, client communications director for Pepsi Beverages at OMD, would also be apt to use scent again following the marketer's recent foray into fragrance. Though the costs limited Pepsi's efforts to subscriber-only mailings of People in Los Angeles and New York, she said the tactic worked well at stopping the busy 30-something Jazz target in its tracks in buzz markets.