Aromatic treasures found in wet soil, the freshness of the earth, the ripe aroma found underneath the snow and salt. Yes, for those who live in a climate of seasons with snow, a spring aroma has began, capturing the hearts of many – the smell of spring is in the air.
For many, the smell of spring would be defined as a “good” scent. The current research findings explored by Katie Liljenquist and Chen-Bo Zhong suggest “clean scents summon virtue, helping reciprocity to prevail over greed and charity over apathy.” These scientists investigated whether clean scents could transcend the domain of physical cleanliness and promote virtuous behavior.
For the last twenty-five years, researchers have been studying how aromas impact consumers buying decisions. More emphasizes has been placed on ambient marketing (scenting spaces), what do consumers associate with a scented experience. Approximately fifteen years ago, Dr. Alan Hirsch from the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation was one of the first to explore the impact of ambient scenting. The famous Nike study consisted of, scent in a room with Nike shoes and an adjacent room unscented with the exact merchandise. Findings, suggested that consumers thought the shoes in the scented room were of greater value and would the consumers would pay more. Most consumers could not detect the scent but their perceptions changed in the scented space. So, if scents can change our perception and our behavior, and using scent in branding is an effective strategy, how do we determine what is a good scent?
Generally, “good” scents are defined (in North America), by the lack of aroma or under the “nasal threshold” – meaning not too strong. This theory of a good or bad aroma began hundreds of years ago; people were surrounded by a constant stench. Living conditions were often a combination of raw sewage, rotten and fresh meat, harvested fruits or vegetables, spices, combined with lack of bathing – these aromatic combinations were generally the reason perfumery started.
In the seventeenth century, Europeans began adding aromas into their lives to create ambience. Understand – aromas were used to balance out odors. Royalty used scents as a status symbol, but in general, the British frowned severely on using aromas. It was not until Queen Elizabeth I, became educated on how the French used smells for pleasure. However, these aromatic materials were very expensive and the status continued that only the wealthy smelled good.
Combined with the stereotype that “rich” people smelled better and within the last one hundred and twenty five years, North Americans have been slowly deciding what are good & bad scents. By 1890, P&G was selling more than 30 types of soaps and in 1889, Lysol was invented. After the great depression, new companies such as SC Johnson entered the market. The use of cleaning products became more than just soap and water. US markets almost became obsessed, using harsh chemicals to strip away any grim, mildew, and mould and of course odor. This process often left a sterile environment and some cases the harshness of the chemicals actually weaken the ability to smell. Today with food bacteria, HINI, and the super “bug”; chemicals are more widely used in the efforts to be clean and smell clean. More than 85 percent of American households today utilize bleach for whitening, cleaning and sanitizing chores.
However, have we become so focused on removing all odors, that when scents become elevated beyond the “nasal threshold” only than do we determine if it is a bad or good aroma? For example, try visiting a restaurant that has an unpleasant odor – actually detecting a fish or raw beef scent or characters of compost or garbage – all of these odors cannot be avoided if the restaurant is serving fresh food. Yet the level of aroma is the key factor – what is tolerable? Obviously rotten food, or fermented grease is not the objective aroma. In fact, have you ever thought about what a McDonalds or Burger King smells like? The truth is they do not have a smell. The restaurant’s air system whisks kitchen odors outside before they can seep into the dining room. The reason, no smell means, the restaurant is a good place to eat, clean and trusted.
In many European countries, scented spaces are far more tolerated, explored, and in many cases expected. Last year while visiting the South of France, I came across the “classic” French market – the aromas were so ripe, and calling, strong cheeses, meats, wines, the aromas from hand selected herbs, coriander, flowers and the multiple aromas of women’s perfumes who frequented the market – it was an aromatic pleasure one I will never forget. However, these types of “aromatic” pleasures are found commonly throughout shops, restaurants, and hotels. It seems most places in the world accept North America; scented spaces are not translated by residents as good or bad, aroma is the backdrop of an environment.
Some how North Americans have created this odor dictionary of what is good and what is not. We smell over 10 000 different aromatic chemicals or smells everyday and yet most humans detect one or two. This is because we are not trained to smell and through generations, a belief structure has been put in place that certain aromas are actually bad for us. This belief is so rooted, it stems from a place of passion, almost hate. These feelings are triggered by these scents – a deep psychological belief that can cause individuals to demonstrate physical symptoms of disgust. The truth, there are no bad or good smells just scents from an aromatic molecule, molecule that contains an odor characteristic – something so simple and yet so powerful. The secret to what makes a good scent is the “silage” or scent trail. This is the consumer’s interpretation found in a scented space. The right scent for branding is based on the olfactory threshold of the one smelling it. Truth be told – finding balance is the secret, but any scent can be a good or bad smell.