Getting a Scents of Seattle

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Last week pretty much turned into an unexpected whirlwind. I was in New York, returned to Portland, then promptly had to point my car north to Seattle for a commercial voice gig.

(Dirty Secret: I really wanted to be the morning show host on KINK in Portland. That's part of the reason I chose this "path." Commercial voice work was an entrée into the field ... and is still one of my favorite parts of the business.)

Doug Zanger Doug Zanger
The first thing I noticed when I got out of the car was the smell. It was both powerful and familiar. If I were blindfolded and let out of the car on the corner of First and Pine, I could have told you that I was in Seattle. I could probably do the same thing in New Jersey and figure out if I were in Atlantic City or at Newark Liberty International Airport. My wife traveled to Baku, Azerbaijan in 2005. The first thing she was told to expect was an overpowering petroleum odor. When people visit Hawaii, they are welcomed with a strong floral aroma.

Smell is powerful and can be a signature identity. It can also trigger nostalgia. The comfort of turkey and cream of mushroom hot dish as a child; the terse air of grass clippings as a teen, after being forced to mow the lawn every weekend; the "oh so fun" tincture of patchouli in college; the musty sweetness of a chilly fall day during crush at an Oregon winery as a young adult. And today? Seattle.

Seattle smells clean. Seattle smells alive. It rains quite a bit here, so most of any funk that dares to wander into the area is promptly shuttled down the storm drains, leaving the fragrance slate in good balance. But there is also an edgy essence to it all. It is equal parts caffeine, fresh seafood, water and firs tempered with a subtle sweetness. I'm always intrigued by how perfumes and tonics are named. Seattle would simply be called "Musky Fresh Rain."

How does this relate at all to advertising? It's simple. Inspiration. There is something about senses coming alive that can give us permission to create. As I walk around the Pike Place Market tomorrow morning, I'm certain that I will come up with four or five things that will help make a client campaign or idea even better. I'm also guaranteed to get one hell of a good cup of coffee while I'm at it.

Quick Hits:
Does your city have a "signature scent?" If so, what is it?
What sense(s) do you rely on when you seek inspiration?
Why isn't patchouli more socially acceptable?
Where should I take Ken Wheaton to lunch after losing my Eagles/Saints game bet? [Editor's note: We really don't need to bring up the Saints/Bears game at this point. Really.]

Get to Know:
Inn at the Market/Seattle
Oregon Wine Country
Pike Place Market
Patchouli (the band)
Patchouli (the fragrance)
Turkey and Cream of Mushroom Hot Dish
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