Magazine article Marketing

Scents of Real Purpose

Magazine article Marketing

Scents of Real Purpose

Article excerpt

The room is small, sunny, white-washed. The location is London's Chelsea Harbour. The meeting is an unlikely one. A group of worried businessmen and a Walt Disney scriptwriter who might just be able to dig them out of the hole.

The businessmen are face with a huge corporate collapse. Their shareholders are baying for blood. The writer will produce an AGM script, using all his fairytale-making skills to weave the crucial elements of hope, supreme, fear and relief into a tale that will send shareholders home, happy ever after.

Business is getting into bed with psychology. And it's not just a one-night stand. It's a long-term commitment which has huge implications for marketing. "We use the same techniques as Aristotle and Hitler," explains Nigel Oakes, a former Monaco TV and Saatchi Group director and now managing director of Behavioural Dynamics, employers of the scriptwriter. "We appeal to people on an emotional level to get them to agree on a functional level."

Behavioural Dynamics, set up in 1989 by a Swiss consortium of businessmen, claims to deliver "competitive advantage to clients through the understanding, modification and control of human behaviour". To this end, it employs a network of psychology professors from universities around the country, notably University College, London and Warwick University.

Its subsidiary Retail Dynamics works on the simple premise that consumer behaviour - and therefore sales -- are determined by the relationship between several linked factors. These range from layout, display and store size, through to consumer motivations, desires and previous experience. Clients include Boots and Kingfisher, Forte and British Telecom.

Perhaps the most controversial of its methods is its newly launched "smell" to companies designed to influence their staff and/or customers.

Working with researchers at Warwick University, Marketing Aromatics will tailor-make "corporate identity" smells with which companies can infuse their headquarters, company stationery, and their public interface -- be it stores, stations, telephone boxes or labels on clothes. A high street convenience store chain is already discussing the idea (Marketing, August 27) which Oakes claims is commonplace in Japan.

Smells range from the tangible, like the smell of apples, to the abstract, like the smell of winter. They can be designed to neutralise bad odours, reduce stress, induce a feeling of well-being or evoke an emotion that will influence behaviour. For instance, the faint whiff of coconut and rum in a travel agency will increase foreign bookings, says Oakes.

"Smell is one of the quickest senses -- with almost no thought process between nose and brain," says Marketing Aromatics director Kate Foster. "Smell is an emotional, not a rational, sense. It influences people's feelings and may well influence their behaviour."

So, for example, Gucci could develop a singular designer smell, implanting tiny "smell" crystals in its clothes labels. Or BT could lay crystals to be broken underfoot each time someone enters its phone boxes that give off a BT corporate smell, replacing the more common varieties of cigarette ash and urine.

Or British Airways could imbue its aeroplanes with its own aroma so that no other airline "feels quite right for some undetectable reason", says Oakes.

"That's all very well, but Virgin might get its own smell and provide better chocolates," says the corporate communications director of a major company. …

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