The Magic of Scent
Odour memory is our natural survival method. Smoke, rotten eggs, chemical smells – these are all sensory signposts that steer us away from potential danger.
The flipside is also true, as we are drawn to smells that offer comfort and reassurance. The milky warmth of vanilla is largely associated with pleasant childhood memories. Bury your face in a loved one’s shirt and they almost come to life beside you. Open a bottle of sunscreen and you are momentarily on holiday. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine the sweet, nutty aroma of a freshly ground espresso. If you love coffee, chances are you’re already planning a trip to the local barista.
Our sense of smell is directly connected to the limbic system, which is the emotional and decision making control centre for the brain. Unlike other senses, smell is processed in our subconscious and immediately triggers an emotional response, depending on previous experiences with the same scent. This is known as involuntary human memory, in which everyday cues evoke recollections from the past.
Far from requiring our conscious effort, involuntary memory is beyond our control and was first described by French writer Marcel Proust in his book In Search of Lost Time. On taking a bite of a tea-soaked madeleine cookie, he was overtaken by an “exquisite pleasure” that he sensed was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake.
“And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane.
“So in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.”
Marketers have tried for years to capitalise on scent association. Hans Laube launched the first, and only, example of Smell-O-Vision in 1960, during which thirty smells were injected into the cinema via specially designed tubes next to the seats. The craze for Scratch ‘n’ Sniff marketing began in the 1970s and lasted about 20 years, until free samples became the norm instead.
Singapore Airlines introduced a branded scent to their planes and lounges over 15 years ago, and an experiment at a petrol station café saw a 300 percent increase in coffee sales after the smell was pumped around the forecourt.
More recently, several New York supermarkets were outed for artificially scenting their aisles with chocolate and baked bread. When M&M World, the world’s largest sweet shop opened in London in June, it was artificially scented with chocolate because the M&Ms themselves are pre-packaged, their scent contained.
In January of this year, a Californian company launched ScentScape, a computer plug-in which emits a variety of odours whenever you play a game. You can even customise your home videos with smells such as Birthday Cake or Beach. The company is developing tools for posting scent-enabled videos on YouTube, Facebook and other internet applications.
Closer to home, Karen Walker stores imbibe their clothes with Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb which extends the pleasurable experience long after the happy shopper has left the store with their purchase.
In short; scent marketing is here to stay. So what does this mean for your salon or spa?


For the majority of businesses, communication with their customer is by audio or visual means only; smell and touch don’t apply. In the spa industry, we have the benefit of access to all five of the senses, including our clients’ sense of smell. If you consider that the average adult takes 900 breaths during a one-hour facial or massage, that’s an awful lot of opportunities to engage them through positive scent association.
Creating a signature smell is effectively adding a scent logo to your spa, which brings back (hopefully positive) memories of how your clients felt when they were there. Smells have no meaning prior to being associated with an experience, but after that they are indelibly linked and will always bring the associated emotion to mind.
Take it further by spritzing your marketing materials, shopping bags and gift vouchers with the same scent. You could even give your most loyal clients a little bottle as a Christmas gift.
A scent logo takes your relationship with your client beyond the physical, to the emotional and even spiritual realm. Notch yourself into their subconscious alongside other happy memories, forever linked to the inner and outer beauty they felt at your spa.

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