smell in experiential marketing

Sight is key for first impressions. Sound sets the mood. The sense of smell, however, is more connected with memory and emotion than any other sense. It is the most direct of all senses to your brain and can trigger memories and emotions very vividly. That’s why the sense of smell in experiential marketing campaigns shouldn’t be overlooked.

Scent is provocative and has an influence on our behavior, emotional state and mindset.

Our sense of smell is our most primal; it’s the first to develop as a baby. Animals use scent to understand each other, and while we don’t have as many nostril glands as a dog has, scent drives human behavior. Even the earliest of childhood memories, which can be remembered through scent, can drive purchase decisions as adults.

Scent marketing can be a complex – and scientific – process. Fragrances are tiered into three main categories: top notes, heart (or mid) notes and base notes. At the top, lighter scents like citrus and lavender will dissipate quickly. In the middle, floral, fruity and spice scents are often welcomed by a wide range of demographics. At the base, earthy and woodsy aromas are considered more masculine, deeper and will linger longer.

To complicate things more for marketers, the variable that matters most in deciding if a scent is positive or negative is how it ties to one’s individual memories. Yet, the majority of us will agree that certain scents will evoke similar emotions. Rose water can be energizing. Lavender can be calming. Baking bread can make us feel home sweet home.

With all of that to consider, the sense of smell in experiential marketing is still a checklist item that should be embraced. Scent may positively help your brand connect with a consumer on an emotional level. Using a scent emitter, fragrant spray, burning candles, incense, potpourri or an essential oil diffuser are all ways to scent your experience.

Guide to Multi-Sensory Brand Experiences

Guide to Multi-Sensory Brand Experiences

Reach your audience through multi-sensory brand experiences which activate the senses to promote stronger brand-to-consumer connections.

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Because scent can evoke such a strong physical and mental reaction, it’s important not to overload on aroma. If you’re concerned about too much or too little fragrance, err on the more subtle side. After all, your goal isn’t to see how many sneezing fits you trigger.


When using scents in a consumer experience, it’s important to make sure it corresponds with the brand. A good example is the scent program at the Marlins Park baseball stadium in Miami, which according to an LA Times article, includes the smell of caramel popcorn in the general concourse areas to create a “whimsical, family atmosphere.”

If you’re promoting a tropical travel brand, you may choose to incorporate smells of coconut or passionfruit into an experience. Oscar Meyer’s bacon alarm dongle connected to smartphones and wafted a scent of sizzling bacon in the morning. You can provide scent on all campaign media – a piece of mail becomes infinitely more fun when it’s scented! Or, if you’re promoting an athletic brand, give out great-smelling deodorant to participants at your experience.

Don’t just leave scent marketing to food and fragrance brands. It’s something that all marketers should consider as they design multi-sensory campaigns.

Smell alone isn’t enough to convey your entire brand message.

A balanced media mix needs to have elements that can’t be ignored. Brand experiences or live events enhance the overall marketing plan with immersive consumer involvement. They engage the five senses, including scent, which is a powerful way to engage with your audience.

But don’t overlook your brand’s aroma. Smell in experiential marketing – and at other touch points in the consumer journey – can enhance the memory and deepen the understanding of the brand.

To review the scientific evidence that smell in experiential marketing is important, download our free guide to multi-sensory marketing. If you’re ready to start planning your own scent-infused brand experience, sniff us out.