How Courvoisier and Unilever Manipulate the Senses

Other Marketers Lag In Sensory Marketing; Expert Spells Out Opportunities

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If you want to sample the most expensive sushi money can buy, but can't afford it or don't want to consume an endangered species, sensory marketing can create the whole experience for you.

Courvoisier's sensory marketing
Courvoisier's sensory marketing
The sushi on your plate may be mass produced, but with the right virtual reality headset, it can be transformed into the finest money can buy. Just the sight of exotic food, with its exquisite color and texture, can simulate the experience of eating it without the cost, according to Charles Spence, an experimental psychologist.

Mr. Spence, who is based at the University of Oxford and works with clients including Unilever, McDonald's, Kraft, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, BMW, Mars, Nestle, Starbucks and LG Electronics, has just set up a venture with JWT and will be the agency's head of sensory marketing, working with JWT's global clients. Speaking at Advertising Week Europe in London, he discussed opportunities for marketers to use sensory marketing.

Manipulating the senses, and the way those senses communicate with each other, has long been used to enhance a product's appeal, but technology offers new ways for brands to interact with consumers.

Food and drink are naturally at the forefront of sensory marketing, but the focus is not just on taste and smell. The crunch of Pringles is no accident – it is the product of nuanced research, where consumers were fitted with headphones and given a variety of "crunch" noises as they bite on chips. Their responses to the taste were affected by the sounds they heard as they munched.

Courvoisier cognac has developed a whole marketing program called "Le Nez de Courvoisier" to exploit the various tastes and aromas of the drink. An app and a website provide soundtracks to enhance the experience of drinking Courvoisier. If you like the candied orange flavor, for example, you listen to a particular track to bring out that taste, and there are others for fans of crème brulée or ginger biscuits.

While food and drink are more likely to be at the cutting edge of sensory marketing, there are other areas where Mr. Spence sees potential but feels that marketers are lagging. He cites the clothing industry as an example, and said he is currently working on persuading brands to play with the potential of radio frequency security tags, particularly in relation to the dressing-room experience.

"You can change the soundtrack according to what you're trying on," Mr. Spence said, "using winter music or sounds when you've got a coat, or sunnier sounds if you're trying on beachwear."

And the sound and speed of the spray from a deodorant can has been scientifically constructed. Mr. Spence said that the sound of Axe deodorant has been subtly engineered to make young men feel both more powerful and more attractive to women, while the sound from a Dove can is altogether softer.

Mr. Spence said that Unilever has been working with sensory marketing for 20 years, and is well ahead of rivals in this field. He is currently working with the marketer on the notion that how a person's hair smells can affect the perception of its softness, for example.

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