Pitching aroma puts firms on profit scent

by Kazuaki Nagata

Because advertisements are ubiquitous, it’s hard to make them stand out.

While most rely on visual impact, some companies are attempting to appeal to another sense: smell.

Scent can be a powerful tool to arouse the appetite of shoppers at a supermarket, relax customers at a clothing store or luxury hotel, or even entice an audience at a movie theater, industry experts say.

“Because advertisements using video and voice effects have inundated society, people are so tired of watching and hearing them, and thus they don’t really pay attention to those ads,” said Kenichi Inoue, president of Promotool Corp. in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo.

Inoue’s company provides devices that emit scents in stores and at events to promote sales, mainly food products.

For instance, the company provided a device to generate the aroma of coffee at a FamilyMart convenience store which then saw its coffee sales rise by 30 percent, according to Inoue.

“It’s difficult not to smell something, and it directly sends commands to your brain, so the promotional effect is big,” Inoue said.

The company has also conducted research into how the aroma of spices contributes to the sales of curry packages at supermarkets.

Over a one-week period, curry scent dispensers were positioned in various sections. The result was sales of packaged curry rose by 18 percent on average, due, Inoue speculates, to shoppers deciding to make that their dinner selection.

Promotool was originally involved in making samples for cosmetics companies. Then in 2005 it set up a device to issue the aroma of chocolate in a cinema that was showing “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

“Before then, not many people took scent promotion seriously,” Inoue said.

The chocolate aroma in theaters drew a strong positive reaction and Inoue came to believe “this can be a business model.”

After the movie deal, the company received a request from a chocolate shop to provide the aroma for a sales campaign. Many shops lack a strong scent of chocolate because they do not manufacture chocolate on site.

Inoue has seen commercial orders for his aroma services surge drastically since the “Charlie and Chocolate Factory” campaign.

The majority has been food-related.

Scent-related sales doubled in 2008, he said, and this year will likely see at least 10 percent growth. However, the aroma business has yet to generate consistent profits and is still in the developmental stage, Inoue said.

Until now, most clients have wanted to use the firm’s products only for short periods, including one-time product promotions, he said.

Attracting long-term regular users will be the key to expanding the business, Inoue said.

Tokyo-based @aroma Co. also has been providing scents to various businesses, including clothing stores, hotels and gyms.

The company currently focuses on providing devices that emit more natural scents, including herbs and fruit, which are mainly used to soothe customers and polish brand images, but @aroma plans to be involved with food-related sales campaigns as demand grows.

Luxury hotels in Tokyo, including the Ritz-Carlton and Westin Tokyo, and major clothing store Ships currently use the company’s scent-diffusers.

At a Ships store, diffusers with different aromas are set up in strategic sections so products in those areas stand out from others.

According to Ai Shiroshita, a public relations official for @aroma, orders for scent-related services, especially from corporate customers, have increased sharply in the past two to three years.

Explaining the success, she offered a view similar to Inoue’s.

When an artist designs an interior environment, visual and audio effects are the key focus. But because the senses of sight and hearing have been saturated, the sense of smell is the next option.

“The trend seems to be moving in that direction,” Shiroshita said.