The Smell of Success Grows Stronger

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The Smell of Success Grows Stronger

For decades, consumer products have been given pleasant scents so detergents would make laundry smell clean and fresh, toothpaste would leave a refreshing after-taste, and air fresheners would enhance room environments. Even realtors have gotten in on the act, hoping that baking cookies in a home prior to a showing will get prospects in a buying mood.

Now, new studies have given us a much better understanding of how scented environments influence consumers to devote more time to shopping and motivate them to spend more money. In experiments where certain scents were present in the retail setting, people lingered longer while shopping, and they believed that they had spent less time than they actually had. They also gave a higher rating to the store's merchandise, indicated a greater desire to make a purchase, and revealed a willingness to pay a higher price.

This subconscious reaction should not be surprising when the following four characteristics of the sense of smell are considered:1

  • First, according to the Sense of Smell Institute, humans possess the ability to detect approximately 10,000 different odors.
  • Second, after one year, people are, on average, able to recall scents with an accuracy of 65 percent.
  • Third, scent signals go right to the center of our emotions in the brain, bypassing the centers related to mental judgment and interpretation.
  • Fourth, our sense of smell has been found to determine 75 percent of our emotional states.2

Understanding how our sense of smell works explains the close connection with emotions. When a scent reaches the nose, odor receptor cells send signals to a part of the brain called the amygdala. This area is part of the limbic system, which is the emotion-processing part of the brain that also influences behavior, mood, and memory.

The signals trigger an immediate, visceral reaction. Any conscious thought generated by the higher cortical areas come second, if at all. Pam Scholder Ellen, a Georgia State University marketing professor, summarizes the process this way: "(With) all of the other senses, you think before you respond, but with scent, your brain responds before you think."3

This statement sheds light on an important aspect of smell — it acts as a chemical alert system, warning us about toxic molecules that might be in our vicinity...

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