Gas pumps that smell like coffee

From rub-and-sniff newspaper ads to movies that release odors, everyone is suddenly trying to sell with smell. Business 2.0 Magazine asks if this can possibly work.

By Kara Newman, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- It's not enough to have your customers' eyes and ears--now you need to attract their noses too. This month, 100 gas stations in California will be trying technology that wafts coffee aroma at the pump in a bid to tempt its pay-and-go customers into the store for java.

Clear Channel (Charts), meanwhile, is experimenting with scented billboards. USA Today and the Wall Street Journal are set to offer "rub and sniff" newspaper ads. And some retailers are also preparing products with added smell.

Wal-Mart (Charts) is rolling out experimental DVDs with "smell-o-vision," electronic scent wafers that release the odor of a burning building, say, or a freshly fired gun, at precisely timed moments during the movie.

Until recently, scent-based ads were rarely used outside the fragrance and cosmetics industry. But now Madison Avenue has figured out that it can use smell to distract consumers from other media.

Scent marketing gives companies "a competitive advantage over ads on the Internet," says Arthur Sherwood, managing partner at sensory marketing consultancy Scent ID. "It's something the Internet can't do."

Ad companies plan to spend as much as $80 million this year on scent marketing; the three-year-old Scent Marketing Institute estimates that number will reach more than $500 million by 2016.

Depending on consumer reaction, of course, this could turn out to be a short-lived--and expensive--fad. In December, San Francisco bus shelters were equipped with chocolate chip cookie-fragranced strips for a "Got Milk?" campaign. Days later, transit authorities tore down the strips after commuters complained that they were triggering allergic reactions.

Lesson learned, says the industry: Enclosed areas should be avoided.


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