Multi-Sensory Branding with Fragrance

Multi-Sensory Branding with Fragrance

9/29/2009 7:09:00 AM


by Sue Phillips

Fragrance triggers all kinds of emotions—not just because it is the invention of poets or perfume-makers, but because the body’s olfactory receptors are directly connected to the limbic system, the most ancient and primitive part of the brain, which is thought to be the seat of emotion and the part of the brain that allows you to smell. Smell sensations are relayed to the cortex, where “cognitive” recognition occurs, only after the deepest parts of our brains have been stimulated. When the brain processes a smell, it is also processing the event or the emotion that goes with it. Thus, by the time we correctly name a particular scent, such as vanilla for example, the scent has already activated the limbic system, triggering more deep-seated emotional responses.

Perfume goes back to the ancient Egyptians, who used perfumed balms as part of religious ceremonies and later as part of pre-love making preparations and rituals. Gums and resins from trees were used to scent the atmosphere and other plants such as rose and peppermint were steeped in oils until a perfumed unguent formed. The unguent was then rubbed into the skin. It is interesting to note perfume has come full circle today as more people seek out high quality aromatherapy perfumed oils to use in exactly the same way as our ancestors did.

Of the five senses, studies have shown the sense of smell is second only to sight. However, there are some who say the sense of smell is the strongest—we can shut off our other senses but the sense of smell cannot be turned off. As people age, they begin to lose their sense of smell; because taste is related to smell, they do not enjoy food as much as they cannot detect the delicious aromas that food emanates. The human tongue can distinguish only among five distinct qualities of taste, while the nose can distinguish amount hundreds of substances, even in minute quantities.

Perfumes touch our deepest emotions and reflect a person’s true spirit. Consider how the whiff of baby powder immediately takes you back to a beautiful born baby or the memory of your first kiss? Or a scent wafting in the air bringing up memories of a particular event—luscious jasmine or gardenia fragrance conjuring up memoires of a wonderful tropical vacation. Scent and emotions therefore have become indelibly imprinted on the brain. When you smell the scent again, it triggers the memory because it is tattooed in your brain.

Smell (or olfaction) allows vertebrates and other organisms with olfactory receptors to identify food, mates and predators, and provides both sensual pleasure (the odor of flowers and perfume) as well as warnings of danger (e.g., spoiled food, chemical dangers). For both humans and animals, it is one of the important means by which the environment communicates with us. Today, we are less in touch with our sense of smell than our primitive forefathers, who relied on their sense to smell to detect danger.

With so many other stimuli competing for attention—Internet, cell phones, television—the sense of smell is not “trained” or used to detect danger or pleasures as it once was. In the past, the launch of a fragrance was heralded as a major “event” and the advertising and promotion behind it was extraordinary—costly and bold—and not easily missed. Whereas in 1950 there were 10 new launches, in 1990 there were about 70 and in 2008 there were about 1,000 new fragrances launched in every channel of distribution including independent niche scents, specialty store launches, mass channels and over the Internet. One reason for the proliferation of launches is because there are roughly 1,500 synthetic (man-made) scents in the perfumer’s palette in 2009, whereas in the past, only ingredients from nature were used.


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