Within a broader movement known as "full-sensory branding," the practice of scent marketing -- using specially formulated fragrances to make you buy unrelated products and services -- is on the rise. Smell, it is said, has an unrivaled power to evoke emotion, and this power can be harnessed to boost sales.
Hundreds of companies already set your mood with piped-in aromas, in everything from real estate show rooms to shoe stores. Advertising Age named the practice one of the top 10 trends to watch in 2007. ScentAir, a producer of aroma-marketing systems, stated their business quadrupled between 2005 and 2006.
But why use scent?
Because companies have realized that to stay competitive, and be successful in an advertisement-crammed world where consumers are bombarded with sights and sounds, other avenues must be tapped. "Fragrance is the only thing left," says Harald Vogt, founder of the Scent Marketing Institute. "You cannot turn off your nose. You have to breathe."
So, with between $50 million to $80 million being spent on scent marketing in 2006 alone, does it really work?
According to researchers, yes. According to Martin Lindstrom, author of "Brand Sense," the bible of full-sensory marketing, "People will make quicker decisions, be willing to pay more, and most likely be so emotionally engaged that they are removed from the rational part of their behavior."
There are hurdles however, as one man’s scent is another man’s nuisance. Scent preferences are not only gender biased, there are also cultural and generational preferences -- there is no such thing as a universally admired scent. Additionally, people often form negative associations to smells more easily than positive ones.
Another problem is the possibility of scent overload, similar to noise pollution. And smells might downright torture people with chemical sensitivities, for example. This is not a deterrent for many businesses though, who want to appeal not just to your mind, but also to your emotions, psyche, heart and soul, in an effort to make you buy, buy, buy.
Using scent when trying to sell something seems to work quite well. I’m sure these companies wouldn’t spend millions on something that didn’t impact their bottom line. Most of you, I’m sure, have had the experience of being transported back to another time and place, or being put at ease by a certain scent, like your mother’s perfume, or grandma’s apple pie.
Unfortunately, this practice may cause a stink for quite a few people, especially those of you suffering from chemical sensitivities. Like Mr. Vogt said, you cannot turn off your nose.
You do have to breathe.
Scent and Irresponsibility
Although many who suffer from chemical sensitivities are viewed as hypochondriacs by the medical establishment, it is a very real, and very serious affliction that can have an enormous, negative impact on your life. I know, as I used to be married to a physician who was debilitated with this illness, so I have had some first-hand experience.
It seems everything is scented today, from toiletries to cleaning products to upholstery. It’s a very difficult thing to avoid, and when they start piping it into the air ducts of every other store, it can make life unbearable for some.
Several types of chemically scented products have been found to be detrimental to your health.
Scented candles, for example, may release lead, mercury, and other toxins into the air that you breathe. Particularly hazardous are the slow-burning types of candles that offer hours of inviting coziness. These types of candles often have shiny metal wicks made of pure lead, or a mixture containing lead. The lead particles are small and may float through the air for extended periods of time, then settle on furniture and carpet where they can be touched and ingested by children, adults, and pets.
In large amounts, candle emissions can harm your nervous system, heart, and circulatory system; particularly in children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. Before purchasing candles, look to see if the core is made of metal. Also, look for candles made without additives, such as those made of bees wax.
Air fresheners and toilet deodorizers are other sweet smelling culprits that can damage your health. They often contain a chemical called 1,4-dichlorobenzene, or 1,4-DCB, which has been linked to lung damage. This chemical is present in the blood of nearly all Americans. If you have high amounts of this chemical in your blood you’re more likely to experience diminished lung function, which could be serious if you have asthma or other lung problems.
Reduced lung function is also a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.
Common Sense Scents
If you use air fresheners, candles, or dryer sheets because you like the scent, therapeutic essential oils are an excellent, and safe, alternative for all of them.
Most essential oils have antibacterial qualities and have varying physical and emotional effects depending on the oil, such as stimulation, relaxation, pain relief, and healing. The most common ways to use essential oils include:
- Massaging them (blended with a carrier oil) into the skin
- Adding them to bath water
- Using them in a compress
- Burning them in a diffuser
If you want a non-toxic alternative to dryer sheets, simply dab a drop or two of an essential oil onto a washcloth and put it in with your laundry in the dryer.
It’s important to note that essential oils are not the same thing as fragrance oils.
Essential oils come from plants, while fragrance oils are artificially created and often contain synthetic chemicals. While they may smell good and are typically less expensive, they will not give you the therapeutic benefits of organic essential oils--and you don't want to be inhaling any synthetic chemicals! So, please be sure that the essential oil you use is of the highest quality and 100 percent pure.
Also note that essential oils should be used with caution, especially during pregnancy, as they can produce very strong and significant changes in tiny amounts. It’s a good idea to consult someone knowledgeable in aromatherapy before experimenting with these oils.
Can a Good Smell Improve Your Health?
Scents can be a wonderful addition to your healthy lifestyle, offering soothing relief for various problems, both emotional and physical. In fact, researchers have found that the smells of certain foods -- such as green apples -- may help ease migraine pain, for example.
Headache experts agree that certain odors seem to either provoke or warn of migraine onset. Many migraine sufferers believe smells such as cigarette smoke, cooking odors, or perfumes can trigger an attack, while others recognize various scents as part of the 'aura' that signals migraine onset.
In one study, researchers asked 50 chronic headache patients to rate the severity of their pain before and after smelling an inhaler impregnated with the scent of green apples. Then, 35 of the 50 patients reported that they disliked the green apple odor, while the remaining 15 said they found it pleasant.
The authors reported that patients who liked the smell experienced a statistically significant reduction in the severity of their headaches, while patients who disliked the smell experienced no significant effects, either for better or worse.
They speculate that the green-apple scent may have induced a positive mood state in the 15 patients, and such a state would tend to reduce perceptions of pain.
Your Emotional Connection to Chemicals
Which brings me to the connection of your emotional state with chemical sensitivities.
Extreme emotional burdens can have a profoundly negative impact on your body in a physical sense. In essence, your emotional wound can tear through your body’s bioelectrical functions and become a very physical wound -- weakening of your immune system is one common and very serious result, which may allow chemical sensitivities to set in.
On a small scale, you experience this relationship between your emotions and physical health all the time: a stressful week at work, for instance, often makes you more prone to catch a cold. On a large scale, it is only more extreme: an emotional trauma can debilitate your body’s very ability to ward off toxins (or, for others, viruses and bacteria), thus leading to disease, such as chemical sensitivity.
With my chemically sensitive patients, therefore, my first line of treatment is always to assess whether such emotional traumas may exist. Quite often, they do.
My next line of treatment, therefore, is to:
- Eliminate the emotional trauma. The most effective technique for treating emotional wounds I’ve found is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
- Implement the appropriate diet, based on your nutritional type
- Eliminate household toxins, such as cleaners, air and carpet fresheners
- Use all-natural, fragrance-free, non-toxic personal care products and cosmetics
Some of you may question my recommendation to deal with your chemical sensitivity by dealing with your emotional issues, thinking that simply avoiding all toxins is the answer. And yes, of course it makes sense for those with chemical sensitivity to avoid toxins; ideally, of course, everyone should try to avoid toxins. For more tips, please read through "How to Avoid the Top 10 Most Common Toxins."
But the true solution resides in establishing emotional well-being and implementing an appropriate diet, so that your body is re-optimized to heal and ward off toxins like everyone else, allowing you to live a normal life again. And the first step toward this solution is believing that such improvement really is possible.