For branding, many places adopt signature scents

Between the bouncy music and the stacks of colorful jeans, visitors to the Benetton store on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue might catch a whiff of a growing marketing trend.

Mounted high in the corner beside the store entrance, a scent diffuser, installed in November, spreads a bright spring fragrance modeled after Benetton’s Verde cologne.

“It finishes the emotion we are trying to create in the store,” said Robert Argueta, director of visual merchandising for the United Colors of Benetton, who also is testing the scent in Benetton’s New York flagship store. “It’s the first and last impression a customer gets.”

Long the domain of casinos and hotels, marketing using scent is catching on among retailers and in car showrooms, sports stadiums, airports, banks and apartment buildings that seek to distinguish themselves with customers via the deeply influential sense of smell.

“It’s a way to market above the clutter,” said Roel Ventura, a Seattle-based ambient designer with Ambius, which designs business environments.

The tactic also is gaining traction among businesses hoping to drum up sales, thanks to research that has shown the right scent can open people’s wallets, project a sense of comfort and home (think hotels), shorten the time people believe they’ve been waiting (think banking) or even improve one’s sense of performance (think gym.)

Although smells can be a turnoff or cause health problems for some people, the global scent marketing industry is growing, grossing an estimated $200 million in revenue last year and growing about 10% annually, said Jennifer Dublino, vice president of development at ScentWorld Events, the industry’s trade group in Scarsdale, N.Y.

Scent marketing is divided into two main categories: ambient scenting, which fills a space with a pleasant smell; and scent branding, which develops a signature scent specific to a brand, like an olfactory logo. The former can cost $100 to $1,000 a month depending on the size of the space. The latter can run anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000 plus a monthly maintenance fee.

If the aim is to improve consistency or to create or maintain an iconic brand, a signature scent may be best, said Ed Burke, director of marketing and communications at ScentAir, a leading scent marketing company based in Charlotte, N.C., that says it scents 70,000 locations, including Benetton. Less than 10% of the company’s clients go that route, he said.

“Hugo Boss is a great example of a signature scent,” said Burke, whose company created the rich tamboti wood scent that Hugo Boss pumps through its stores’ heating and air conditioning systems, the preferred delivery method for large spaces. The high-end brand, an early retail adopter of scenting in 2011, at the time sold its apparel mostly in other stores such as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, so scenting was a way to tell a consistent brand story, Burke said.

Some venues use multiple scents. The scent program at the Marlins Park baseball stadium in Miami, launched last month, includes the smell of caramel popcorn in the general concourse areas to create a “whimsical, family atmosphere,” a more sophisticated black orchid aroma in the stadium’s luxury Diamond Club, and a muted orange scent in the team store to reflect the stadium’s history of hosting the Orange Bowl, Burke said.

Some banks have signed on, with research suggesting that scent can shorten the time you feel you’ve been standing in line, said Roger Bensinger, executive vice president for AirQ, a division of Milwaukee-based Prolitech.

AirQ, whose retail clients include Abercrombie & Fitch, luxury designer Pierre Cardin, LensCrafters and Goodwill stores, also has several large gym chains in test mode, a promising opportunity because certain scents, such as peppermint and lemon, can improve the perception of performance, Bensinger said.