If we ask the general population what sense they believe is the most important when making purchasing decisions, they will say that their visual sense is by far the most important, and they would say the same if asked what sense they think most marketers and advertisers are targeting in their clients.
This seems to be true for all of us, as we tend to believe that we are primarily visual creatures, depending on our sight more that all our other senses. Let’s challenge that assumption by taking a virtual walk around downtown Tokyo, London, Hong Kong, or maybe Times Square in NY City. You choose for yourself where you virtually want to go. In this exercise, pretend that you are a tourist visiting one of these places, and if it makes it easier, you can go on YouTube and watch a video of Manhattan’s Times Square in NYC, taking in all that you can see. You will be drawn to the red neon news banner light, the huge billboards of Calvin Klein, Starbucks, Google, and most of the famous brands that you will immediately recognize. Also, try to imagine the smells that you will encounter there as well, and the unstoppable noise accompanying these places.
Now, imagine that instead of being a tourist and just seeing these places once or twice, you’re living there, close by, and you pass Times Square, day in day out on your way home, when you go grocery shopping, when you go to work, when you walk with your friends, when you walk your dog, etc. Do you think that you are still going to notice all those lights and huge billboards like you did the first time, the second or the third time? How about the noise? Is it going to be as predominant to your conscious mind if you are exposed to it all the time? Probably not, because, in today’s age we are visually overstimulated, more so than ever before in human history, as well as our being exposed to numerous background sounds that our brains have learned to ignore due to over exposure. Studies have shown that the more stimulated we are, the harder it is to capture our attention with those stimuli. Marketing companies are fully aware of the results of these studies. Therefore, most marketing companies are beginning to realize that this type of advertising, focusing on visual, in your face kind of colorful representation, is not as beneficial to them. They understand that it does not lead us, the consumers, to buy their product. Not anymore anyways.
Not to minimize to zero, the power of sight in the decision-making process of what we buy, however it turns out that the senses of smell and sound are substantially more important than anyone had ever thought before. This not only applies in the music and food industries, which would be logical, but to a broad range of categories of products. It turns out that advertising marketing that focuses on sound and smell, often works the best when used together with visual representation. Hitting multiple senses makes the advertising much more effective and memorable.
Why is marketing and advertising that appeals to all these senses more important than just focusing on one of them? Ask yourself, what is the purpose of advertising and marketing in the first place? The main reason to advertise a product or service is to emotionally engage the potential clients. To create a meaningful need or want that will lead to the action of buying the product, which is meant to fulfill a need or provide a solution.
It turns out that we don’t respond well to just seeing pretty or colorful images and logos, like what was relied upon in the past. Instead, it has been proven that we, as consumers, respond well to certain fragrances that tickle our sense of smell, and to certain sounds that delight or capture our sense of hearing as well, while the whole, multiple senses experience creates a positive emotion in us.
Have you ever been inside a Vegas casino? Or any casino throughout the world? What do they all have in common, apart from the overwhelming colorful machines? There is a specific sound that accompanies each casino, like the jackpot bells and whistles or the sound of the leavers being pulled on the slot machines. Many people have said that entering a casino that doesn’t have those specific sounds can be quite disappointing. Beyond those sounds, there is that sweet smell that’s barely noticeable, and the air filled with extra oxygen, pumped through the air conditioning system that is specially designed to keep the casino’s clients awake for longer times, so they can play more and therefore spend more money. And no Casino would ever have any windows for the clients to look out and see that is day or night outside, because that would be a distraction. And how about the free drinks that the Vegas casinos offer to all the players? Often the drinks are not fancy or beautiful, however they are free if you’re playing. They don’t want to make the drinks too strong to make their customers pass out, but they want them to have just the right amount of taste and a little kick. Together with the extra oxygen in the air, that light, sweet smell, the sounds, plus the bright lights of the machines together, entices us to stay longer and play more!
There were studies done on the subject. In an article published in 2015 in the ADMAP magazine By Gemma Calvert and doctor Abshihek Pathak, which concluded that “companies that can create the right multisensory mix will deliver superior experiences for consumers and they will far outperform any single sensory broadcast alone.”
Let’s talk about another example. A group of participants were invited to look at the image of a great looking cheeseburger sandwich while they were exposed to the slightest whiff of a freshly baked bun, a smell meant to remind people of a comforting experience from their life.
The conclusions is that when people see and smell something that they like at the same time, there are various regions of the brain that light up together, and among them it’s the right medial orbitofrontal cortex, which is a region of the brain associated with our perception of something pleasant or likable. When we are exposed to these combinations that seem to go well together, the right piriform cortex, as well as the amygdala, which reveals the emotional relevance of that exposure, are both activated. So, when a scent that we like, like the fresh baked bun smell in the study, matches up with an equally appealing image like the great looking cheeseburger, not only do we perceive it as pleasant, but we are much more likely to remember it, because it creates a positive emotion in us.
Other similar combinations are also true. What if we are exposed to 2 likable sensory stimuli: the great looking cheeseburger sandwich, but this time presented together with a sweet vanilla scent. In this case, even though on their own, most of us tend to like both the stimuli, because they do not match together in our minds, the combination of stimuli are not going to have the same desired effect. These are known as incongruous senses, which can be both pleasant but at the same time, are not a good combination if the intention is to attract a consumer.
But this study did not stop here, because the results also showed that when participants were presented with stimuli for the smell senses alone, when we only smell something pleasant without seeing it, we can imagine that product that we think we’re smelling. In our cheeseburger example, it would go this way: the participants have not been exposed to the image of the cheeseburger, but only to the smell of a freshly baked bun and they started imagining products associated with that smell, including a cheeseburger, a hamburger, and other sandwiches.
Did it ever happen to you when you were walking down a street, you’re suddenly hit with this delicious smell of freshly made Belgian waffles? You look around and you don’t see the Belgian waffles anywhere, however in your mind, you can already imagine it, and even more you can imagine yourself eating it.
As you can see, when our senses are working together it helps us understand the world around us and helps to determine our actions and behavior. Many marketers are very aware of these factors, and they use them to their advantage when marketing their products.
Go ahead and try an experiment. Open a jar or box of something that you used to play with or eat as a child, smell it, and see if it doesn’t take you back to your childhood. We all know that there are products that smell the same and have the same taste and are marketed all over the world, which makes them recognizable no matter where we go. Pantene shampoos smell the same in any country. Coca Cola tickles your senses and sparkles the same in any country. And if you ever walked into a fast-food restaurant with the intention of ordering something healthy like a salad, but instead you ended up ordering and eating a triple bacon cheeseburger with a side of fries, you can blame it on the smells inside.
Most people don’t realize that when you enter a fast-food restaurant, most of the time they are not just grilling the meat and some bacon on a hot smoking grill in the kitchen, right there and then. Most fast-food stores have an ambiance canister that pumps smells through their vents, just to get you to order that cheeseburger from them, because your mouth was watering right away when you walked in. Disney is another great example of this technique. They use smells on their rides, in their restaurants, even when you are strolling around outside. It tickles the senses and ultimately, entices you to buy more.
In another study carried out by Doctor Alan Hirsch, the researchers placed two identical pairs of Nike running shoes in two separate but identical rooms. The only difference was the one room was sprayed with a light fresh scent, and the other one just had a regular AC.
The results of this little study were amazing. By a margin of 84% the subjects preferred the running shoes that they looked at in the freshly scented room. Additionally, the study priced the Nikes from the scented room $10 more than the same pair in the unscented room. Even with the higher price point, the test subjects preferred the Nike’s in the scented room.
You may think that the senses of smell, sound, sight, and taste are the only combinations marketers are focusing on, however that’s not true. Touch is also something that is very important because it creates a strong emotional bond between consumers and products. Therefore, many retailers allow us to sample the products they sell, because by touching the product, we tend to get attached to that feeling. We like how it feels in our hands, how it feels on our faces if it’s about makeup or creams. In marketing and advertising, nothing it’s done by chance. Everything has a purpose behind it when it’s about marketing and advertising.
Restaurants and grocery stores are offering free samples so you can taste their foods. Cosmetic retailers offer free samples of fragrances and creams so you can feel it and smell it on your skin. Clothing retailers offer you dressing rooms where you can try the clothes on. They even recognize the fact that consumers are connected emotionally to different colors, therefore they often display their products based on those color schemes. Sounds can even help us decide in a liquor store whether we pick up a French wine or a German wine, depending on what type of music they are playing in the background.
All these factors, images, colors, logos, smells, sounds, textures – are vital parts of certain brands and are used heavily in the displaying of products, playing an important role in our decision-making process and ultimately, influencing us, the consumers, in what we choose to buy.
Author: Sanda Kruger
Sanda is an entrepreneur, real estate investor, health coach and professional dancer. Sanda is an entrepreneur with more than 20-year experience in business development and project management in the fields of life, health and fitness coaching. She is also a real estate investor and a banker, who learned outstanding adapted business strategies, sales and marketing techniques, communication, and goal setting skills, hands-on, through life and work experiences. She is a certified fitness professional and is the creator of two original fitness programs, called BellyCore® Fitness and AquaCor®.