Ever so often, I find a research study and breath a deep breath of relief. Recently a researcher Leslie Vosshall of Rockefeller University presented a five-year study to a group of academics in New York. The study was aimed at creating a “smell demography” of New York City; the researchers subjected hundreds of volunteers found through Craigslist.com to intensive smell testing.
The findings were interesting; the study focused on the various New York smells. Most city people agreed garbage; urine on the sidewalk and smelly socks were disgusting. Yet it seems that across all gender, race and age lines vanilla was a top favorite. This point is key in scent branding, vanilla creates a feeling of comfort, satisfaction, and the sensory connection is pleasant. This does not say the smell of New York is vanilla, and it does not mean that when a person smells vanilla they will think of New York.
The study also discussed how the most perceptive noses were young, female, and nonsmokers. However, from other research I have completed, we have found men and women over 50 pay attention to smell and are more often influenced to purchase a related product because of a scent.
The research addressed how different cultural backgrounds have a completely different perception to the same smells and how different races have different preferences with similar scents. This is a key point, most marketers and branders think we all smell the same way. The reality is we do not and this is why perfumers create various aromas for various demographics. Good “scent” brands such as Gain laundry detergent, will have a distinguished aroma that captures the emotional aspects of the brand by addressing specific demographics.
The study posed the question; are New Yorkers more tolerant of smells than out-of-towners? I would say yes. People in cities are exposed to many aromas, the more one smells the better their sense of smell becomes. Learning to smell is training, and when you have the pleasure of living in a city that can blast scents daily – you learn to understand aromas differently.
This study is about smelling/olfaction, which is my breath of relief. This type of research causes people to think about scents. I personally believe our sense of smell is our most neglected and endangered sense. I applaud Leslie & her research team and only hope that with the trend of scent marketing, more research will follow.