While some of the earliest proponents of the use of scent in commerce have come under fire, like the owners of Brooklyn’s NetCost grocery, whose decision to pipe in bakery smells to entice customers was questioned a 2011 Time Magazine story, in the intervening years aroma branding has become increasingly attractive as a sales tool, particularly in the hotel industry.
There is a large body of research supporting the strength of the sense of smell on memory association and emotional response. Our senses of smell are so finely tuned that the mere suggestion of a smell that carries a positive association can influence a marketing outcome. That alchemy of biochemical sense memory is what’s known scientifically as an affective response.
In research published in 2010 in the Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research, Vincent Magnini and Kirin Karande define the affective response as “an emotion, a specific feeling, a mood, or an evaluation that can vary in level of intensity and arousal,” and state that, “Positive affective responses can influence attitudes and behavior.” However, Magini and Karande’s work focused on the visual marketing of specific tourism destinations which included smell-specific verbiage. In brief, they asked, “How can a hospitality or tourism advertisement stimulate a positive affective response?” Further they wondered if simple words and pictures that referenced smell could cause the viewer of the advertising to associate positive emotions to the destination being described. Would affective response translate from actual smell to the suggestion of smell?
It did, and at statistically significant rates. The positive affective response is even more significant in women than in men, as their olfactory senses were found to be more highly attenuated. It is this idea of the suggestion of smell that is at the core of scent branding for the hotel industry. “[T]op hotel executives are discovering that redoing their scent profiles can have a huge impact on brand recognition—” says Kari Molvar for vegasmagazine.com. The Venetian Hotel spent more than six months and an undisclosed amount of money asking some 800 independent subjects to evaluate the effect of varying scent mixtures in a multi-tiered study. Most of the luxury hotels and casinos on the Vegas strip now utilize some form of scent branding. Some, like Vdara Spa, opt for a customized aroma mix, and some are marketing that scent as a trademarked perfume for guests to purchase as well.
A preponderance of international hoteliers including major brands like the Ritz-Carlton, and even some smaller hotel chains, are doing the same, not only using aroma diffusion throughout their properties to stimulate positive affective responses in their guests, but have begun selling their fragrances in spray, stick, candle, and other forms.
Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City brought in a team to analyze its unique, naturally occurring scent fingerprint, which centers around its lobby’s wood burning fireplace. They now sell the scent in a candle which patrons can purchase for $90.
The hotels that are choosing to sell their fragrances to guests are gaining an as yet unquantifiable advantage over their competition; not only did their aroma branding affix their scent association firmly in the minds of the guests, but in sending them home with the scent, they’re reinforcing their brand remotely, maximizing the aroma’s impact and garnering even greater results from their traditional marketing, particularly if they’ve followed Magnini and Karande’s advice to include smell-related copy in their advertising.