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Wake up and Smell the Coffee - ‘Smell-vertising’

By Joe Cox

coffee aroma

I’ve decided to create a new feature on these pages called ‘wake up and smell the coffee’. It occurred to me the other day that more so than taste, the thing most people seem to love about coffee is that irresistible aroma. So why not delve a little deeper into the wondrous world of coffee’s marvellous scent and try to understand what it is that makes it so special, why we love it so much and even the science behind what makes an enjoyable smell.

First of all I couldn’t resist coming up with something a little more anecdotal and this story from South Korea was too good to ignore. Seems the clever people of Dunkin Doughnuts’ marketing department have tapped into a whole new way of advertising their coffee on Seoul busses; as well as telling you about it they’ll give you a smell of it as well. ‘Smell-vertising’, is just the latest innovation in the psychology tapping world of marketing, and as a 29% increase in sales of Dunkin Doughnuts stores situated close to bus stops seems to attest, it works. 

So how does it work? Well it pretty much comes down to an audacious idea and some fairly simple engineering. The machine responsible for generating the coffee aroma is known as ‘Flavor Radio’ and it looks much like a normal air freshner. The device is programmed to squirt out a blast of coffee aroma upon recognising the signature sounds of Dunkin Doughnut’s radio jingle subjecting commuters to a nasal advert as well as an audial one; something Megan Garber, writing in the ‘Atlantic’, calls the ‘synaesthetic approach to advertising’. In total 350,000 commuters nostrils were subjected to Dunkin Doughnut’s campaign, which lasted several months. 

There is a lot to be said for the subtle power of scent as an advertising technique when compared to the somewhat crass medium of sound and vision to promote a product. Our sense of smell is hugely evocative and has the power to conjure up feelings as quickly as it can memories and pictures in our mind. In this sense it is also a far more aggressive advertising technique and one that may in future need considerable regulation. In this case I can’t help but think it’s not an entirely bad thing to get an unsuspecting whiff of coffee aroma on the way to work.

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