Marketing to All Five Senses

April 15, 2015

The mission of marketers is to make a product appealing to customers. To accomplish this task, ads often depend on eye-popping visual imagery or memorable music in order to form a quick impression. But as many marketers are beginning to realize, consumers have three more senses to stimulate besides sight and sound. Anything from a pleasing smell to a feeling of warmth can make people more receptive to buy, leading a number of companies to ramp up their sensory marketing efforts.

For instance, Abercrombie & Fitch has been experimenting with the power of aroma on its sales floors for years. In an effort to associate the brand with its signature scent Fierce, the retailer would have employees circle the store and randomly spray the cologne throughout. While the idea was good, the execution was not: the scent would get unevenly distributed and employees ended up doused in Fierce stink. Then a few years ago Abercrombie joined up with AirQ, a company that installed scent systems for Giorgio Armani and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. AirQ moved the retailer’s perfume emitters into the ceiling, providing stores with a more uniform and pleasing smell.

A Dunkin’ Donuts campaign in South Korea took the concept a step further. Whenever the company’s jingle played on a municipal bus, an atomizer blew out a small puff of coffee aroma. Visits to Dunkin’ Donuts locations near bus stops increased by 16 percent while sales at those outlets rose by 29 percent. Smell isn’t the only avenue into consumers’ consciousness, however. Studies have shown that warmth makes people more likely to conform to a crowd, which can lead consumers to purchase more items in a store if others are doing so as well. What’s more, researchers also found that people who hold a warm beverage in their hands were more likely to think a stranger was friendly. So next time you’re at Starbucks, see if you can notice a difference in demeanor between people holding an iced coffee and those with a piping hot latte.



  1. Does sensory marketing seem more appropriate for food products than clothing?
  1. Why are marketers concerned with consumer’s sensory perceptions?


Source: Minda Smiley, “Dollars and Scents,” Ad Age, December 9, 2014; “The Science of Sensory Marketing,” Harvard Business Review, March 2015. Photo by: Dennis Wong.