Nose Goes: Take a Whiff of Scent Marketing

There are all types of marketing techniques out there ranging from the traditional to the experimental.  One of the more interesting and experimental marketing techniques is using scents to sells products.  However you can use it for more than that, but I’ll get into that in just a bit.  First off, let’s talk about scent marketing in general.

Scent marketing is not a new concept.  It’s been around, well, a very long time.  We just don’t often realize it’s happening.


You’re walking down a street in your town, and you’re a little hungry.  That’s when you pass a restaurant.  You’re not that hungry so you just walk by, but all of a sudden it hits you.  That delectable aroma of some sort of culinary concoction wafting in the air around you.  Then you think, hmm, maybe I am hungrier than I thought; so you decide to go in and eat.  Restaurants have it easy.  They have a built in scent marketing campaign going year round.  But what about businesses that don’t have that built-in scent marketing?

Think about buying a house using a Realtor.  The job of the Realtor is to make potential buyers see themselves living in the home they’re selling.  So they clean it up real nice, and when you walk through the kitchen you smell the wonderful, nostalgic smell of sugar cookies baking.  Some Realtors will run lemon halves through the garbage disposal and some heat up a glass of beer (very carefully) in the oven to imitate the smell of baking bread. There are all kinds of scents used to make you feel more relaxed and at home.  

Why does scent marketing work?

Nostalgia.  As a child growing up, you make memories that get triggered by something later on as an adult.  So when you smell, say, sugar cookies baking, you might think about all the times you were at your grandparents’ house and smelled the cookies your sweet old grandmother was baking cookies especially for you.  That’s the kind of nostalgia scent marketers love to prey on (and yes, there are marketers and entire companies devoted solely to scent marketing).  

Scents are used in different ways for different effects. These way/effects include:

  • Ambient scents: Usually ambient scents are used in the absence of any scent or to cover up a less desirable odor.
  • Aroma billboards:  It’s big and bold.  These are the types of scents that real estate agents use.
  • Signatures scents:  These are scents specifically manufactured for companies.  When you smell these scents you immediately connect it with that company.  Examples include scents used by stores like Hollister and a lot of high end retail stores.
  • Thematic scents:  These are ones meant to complement the decor of a store.  It tends to be more subtle, like smelling cinnamon around Christmas decorations or vanilla around cook wares. 

Are there times when scent marketing doesn’t work?

Absolutely!  Scent marketing can backfire for a couple reasons:

  • Allergies:  Some people may be allergic to the scent that your using.  If they can’t walk around your store without having an allergic reaction, well, they aren’t likely to buy something when they can’t breathe. 
  • Too strong:  I mentioned earlier on in the post that Hollister uses signature scents.  And, boy, do they use it.  Personally, I can’t walk within 10 feet of a Hollister store without my head starting to hurt from that cologne smog.  In one of my college marketing classes, we were discussing scent marketing and one of my classmates used to work there.  She told us that part of her job was having to spray their cologne/perfume on the mannequins and around the store every half hour. EVERY HALF HOUR.   It obviously doesn’t bother everyone because the store is still pretty successful, but it does deter some people from shopping there.


“Alright, guys, I’m ready to go shop at Hollister!” Image source: shutterstock

“Alright, guys, I’m ready to go shop at Hollister!” Image source: shutterstock


Scent marketing doesn’t always work, and it isn’t always appropriate for every kind of brick and mortar business (a business with a physical location), but when done well, it can really add to the shopping experience.

So what scents are popular?

There are a lot scents people use, but some of the big ones are cinnamon (especially around Christmas), lavender and vanilla (they have a calming effect), and citrus scents (gives off a fresh feeling) to name a few.  

So, I could use scents in my store, but what else can I use them for?

Scent marketing doesn’t just apply to store fronts alone.  One of my favorite things to do is to make scented business cards (again, this doesn’t apply to everyone).  For example, say you sell coffee for a living, you could make your business cards smell like coffee.  Or say you sell fruits; you could make your business cards smell like lemons or oranges.  The possibilities are endless.  But if you decided you want to do a scented business card make sure it makes sense with your business type (like the ones I mentioned above).  

How do you make scented business cards?  Good question.  Put your business cards in a ziploc container.  Buy an essential oil in the flavor/scent you want, and put the cap (filled with the oil) into the container with the cards.  Make sure the cards don’t touch the actual oil though.  Seal it tightly and leave it for several days.  Open it up and voila!  You now have scented business cards.  (Side note:  the scent will work better with non glossy business cards, but you can try it with glossy cards too and see if it works for you.)

So do you use scent marketing?  What scent do you use?  Let me know in the comments.  I hope you enjoyed this post, and be sure to share it and subscribe!