The Psychology of Scent Marketing: When your nose does your thinking for you

28.01.21 11:21 AM Comment(s)

Think back to your most recent shopping trip. Perhaps you bought your groceries from the local supermarket, and perhaps you weren’t shopping for pastries or bread. Whether you intended to be there or not, it’s likely you found yourself near the bakery section, and the enticing scent of freshly baked goods drew your attention in an almost cartoonish way. 

Not only that, but the scent likely drifted from a considerable distance away, informing you of the source before you even had a chance to see it. 

This phenomenon exists entirely by design and is part of a strategy known as scent marketing. It ties in with other sensory marketing techniques that businesses often use to create a memorable experience for shoppers. The idea is both to encourage you to buy in the moment, and to become a repeat customer.

Sensory marketing in general operates on the concept that shoppers cannot always be trusted to make the best decisions about products in a purely logical fashion. Where traditional marketing draws attention to concrete qualities of a product such as utility, price and available features, sensory marketing focuses on the emotions and memories it can evoke in an individual. 

For example, a company could adjust its marketing for the winter season by accentuating the smell of cinnamon in their stores when they are selling Christmas related products, as well as employing a red and green colour scheme. If I were to put you on the spot, you could probably name a few big companies who do. 

In essence, this type of marketing appeals to your senses by adjusting the look, feel, sound and smell of a product, or its packaging or presentation, to encourage you as the buyer to create positive associations and feel a sense of brand loyalty. 

However, when bringing neurological and psychological considerations into marketing, smell is, by far, the most important sense to cater to. It is the first sense that evolved in humans, and it is the first sense we use as babies. As a result, unlike our other senses, which are processed in a central area of our brain before being transmitted outwards, scent travels to multiple areas of our brain immediately. There, it can influence strong, instantaneous and memorable reactions. 

From a business perspective, studies have shown that enjoyable scents can persuade customers to stay in retail spaces for longer and has even increased intent to purchase by as much as 80%. If we like how a place smells, we are more likely to consider it familiar and welcoming, and thus return to it multiple times. We are also far more likely to choose a product or a service we associate with a smell we enjoy than a cheaper equivalent counterpart with no scent or a scent we dislike.

Real world examples of this effect can be seen with the strategic placement of Cinnabon stores in areas where the smell of cinnamon lingers for longer, the strong scent of popcorn in any major cinema, and even the scent of suntan lotion in travel agencies. 

So, the next time you find yourself drawn in to a store, café, or any other business because of how pleasant the scent is, consider that it is less a happy coincidence and more likely an important aspect of a well thought out marketing campaign. 


“How do we Smell?”, Rose Eveleth, Ted Talk, 2019 [available at]

“The Science of Smell: How Retailers Can Use Scent Marketing to Influence Shoppers”, Guinevere Orvis, Shopify Retail Blog, 2016 [available at,a%20gas%20station%20increased%20coffee%20sales%20by%20300%25]