Themed Design: The Attraction of Scent

When my bottle of cologne hit the bathroom floor this morning it wasna��t the sight of broken glass that occupied my senses. It was the scent. It was powerful. It took me right back to the shop where I tried it on for the first time. I have always been interested in scents, and the use of scent is starting to blossom in some sectors.

mikkel sonne designer theme parkBy  Mikkel Sonne

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Samsung and Bloomingdales have introduced scent marketing in some of their stores. Even companies like Burger King and Vodafone have signature brand colognes, and chances are that your local petrol station may have its own signature scent. But in the attractions industry, an industry rooted in storytelling and emotion, it’s surprising that the use of scents often is overlooked.

The science is all there. The part of the brain that processes scent is the same part that processes memory and emotion—they are physically connected. The smell of clove suddenly reminds me of Christmas and the smell of patchouli of my mother. It’s not oversentimentality, it’s science

As designers we pay careful attention to each detail—the colors, the layout, the graphics, the font on safety signage. We tweak each line. We carefully curate the soundtrack. Yet smell, the sense that scientifically takes us straight to emotion, is generally not top of mind.

I perceive scents as colors—invisible colors if you will—that act in the same way as painting a room in swirly red and white stripes. Wouldn’t adding the smell of peppermint or cotton candy take it to the next level? It transports you into the story and embeds the experience in your memory. It transforms the room from being merely a room into an experience. An experience to remember.

I can cite the research that carefully incorporating scent has been shown to increase consumer spending (it really is out there). But the fact remains that scent is intangible, it’s invisible and sadly, often ignored.

It’s also a powerful tool. It’s a shortcut to connect in the brain to a positive experience. It surpasses all other brain processes and goes straight to emotion. That is how scent can embed memories and experiences. Remember that damp smell when entering The Haunted Mansion or the subtle smell of chlorine water in Pirates of the Caribbean? Scent transforms you to another dimension of the story telling.

It’s also how, for the remainder of that day, every time I caught a whiff of my cologne it wasn’t the smell of cedar or vetiver that caught my attention—it was the recollection of the good-smelling accident that morning.

Image: Mikkel Sonne