Dollars and Scents - Tapping Primitive Instincts in Modern Consumerism

"Scent is the strongest sense tied to memory."

You remember the commercials.

The Old Spice announcer comes on, repeats that tagline, and the branding campaign builds on the foundations that scent can instantly stir memories and emotions with a simple whiff and the subconscious actions of our olfactory receptors.

And yet, for all the campiness of the marketing - it was unbelievably accurate!

Although sometimes considered the most primitive of our senses (originally used in the annals of history for detecting odors masking impending danger) it's quietly been perfected into an unparalleled neurological processor of our ever-changing ecosystems. Dr. Stuart Firestein, Biologist at Columbia University, has claimed that an individual has the ability to differentiate between at least 10,000 unique chemical odors, if not up to 100,000.

And it's this refined reaction that can drive emotionally compelling, Proustian Memories. We've all had them. That moment when a wave of sensations and emotions, deeply embedded in your shadowy subconscious, floods back with effortless ease.

In the consumer world, a few common brands are lucky to have this embedded in their offering. The fragrance of freshly ground coffee in Starbucks. The hot-out-of-the-oven cinnamon rolls at Cinnabon. Even our primitive malls bask in the ridiculous buttery balm of Auntie Anne's pretzels. (You're thinking about how good all of those sound right now, aren't you?)

And yet, these aromatic affirmations need not be relegated to a handful of quick service restaurants - numerous industries are wisely leveraging the untapped power of scent to increase the intent to buy.

Smell something different at Anytime Fitness (as opposed to the standard output of the guy on the next treadmill over)? That's happening intentionally. Notice a difference from one department to the other at Bloomingdale's? It's not just physical design, it's the perfume attached to individual brands and products. It's literally being used to trigger different reactions depending on your choice to shop for swimwear or children's clothes.

Need further proof? Go to the industry most acutely aware of how key details can influence consumer spending - the gaming industry.

Take The Cosmopolitan, a relatively new hotel and casino at the heart of the Las Vegas strip. From day one, the Cosmo has had an omnipresent ocean mist and lavender atmosphere teeming throughout its vents. Their scent is literally a branded calling card - a distinguishing element, separating itself from both current competitors and the dingy tobacco smells of Vegas yesteryear.

Here's where the plot thickens: The Cosmopolitan is flipping the Las Vegas business model on its head. In a recent announcement, the property has done away with player points for all of their casino table games (a la craps, blackjack, baccarat, etc etc). Putting it in laymen's terms, The Cosmo is bucking decades of long held Vegas P&L gaming platitudes, and re-engineering a platform focused on a consumer's desire to stay around and spend cash on everything other than gambling.

Should one consider The Cosmopolitan's beautiful decor, outstanding dining, great shopping, and wonderful hospitality as key factors? Of course. But the same could be said for other Vegas mainstays like the Bellagio or the Venetian, and they haven't shown signs of obliterating everything Vegas has held true.

Blackstone, the new management team overseeing The Cosmopolitan, seem to have uncovered a secret to success (so groundbreaking, it's the next revolutionary leap in gaming design - but we'll save that topic for another time). The Cosmo knows an ecosystem wrapped in a branded scent, that influences you to stick around longer, can drive exponential growth in retail, hospitality, and nightlife revenue when extrapolated over millions of visitors a year.

And they're not alone - from the Westin to the Waldorf Astoria (which, in certain locations is using the absurdly addicting "Ocean Breeze" from Scentair) brands are figuring out that a bouquet tailored to their target market can not just trigger memories, but enhance, elongate, and amplify a consumer's intent to buy.

And when other consumer facing industries realize they can blend scent to not only augment an interaction, but also drive additional revenues, my money is on that value proposition making plenty of sense.

Or is it scents?

Addison Hoover