The power of the invisible

22. December 2020, MAXFIVE

“Actually, it all starts at birth,” explains Peter Wieser, whose company Aromea Airdesign was one of the first olfactory marketing agencies in Austria. He goes on to confirm that the human sense of smell is more or less fully fledged from the moment we first enter the world. Initially, babies rely on their noses rather than their eyes, recognising their parents from their scent instead. What we perceive as a pleasant smell is determined by individual life experiences.


branded fragrances
consumer behaviour
olfactory marketing
store scenting

Aromas are inextricably linked with our memory – or to be precise the limbic system in the centre of our brains, where emotions and memory are processed. An aroma in the nose triggers images in the mind’s eye.


MAXFIVE invited the olfactory expert to give a lengthy interview.

How do aromas influence consumer behaviour?

Peter Wieser: Scents are everywhere. People can close their eyes to block out images, cover their ears to escape the sound of an advert, or avoid touching certain objects, but the only way to switch off our sense of smell is to stop breathing. As time passes, we are able to remember smells more clearly than the things we see, hear, touch or taste. And that is precisely what we are looking to capture – create a feelgood atmosphere, raise brand awareness and improve perceptions of quality and service specifically through olfactory marketing. Marketing experts really need to actively exploit the potential of branded aromas as the brain processes olfactory information more quickly than anything else, and a human being’s ability to recall specific scents is unparalleled. In short: we are most disposed towards consumption if something smells good or is in a place that smells good.

We talk about something getting up our nose.  So is there something behind it after all?

From an evolutionary perspective, scent is linked to success – on a personal level, too: it is true that the olfactory system decides first whether a new person is going to “get up our nose” or not! Long before we have even exchanged so much as a hello. This is down to pheromones, which are chemical messengers that transmit information via the olfactory system. It is a totally natural process. But we can give it a helping hand by using perfume [laughs].

How do I know whether a smell is going to elicit a positive emotional response from my customers?

Although we can’t be entirely certain, we can draw on various studies and experiences. Once scent molecules enter the nose, they connect with olfactory receptors in the nasopharyngeal  region. And it is from here, in the top of the nose, that the information on the scent reaches the brain, via the limbic system I mentioned earlier. It is here that are emotions are managed in close proximity to our memories. This explains why certain smells are particularly strongly associated with specific memories. It’s similarly to the way that we associate memories with melodies we heard as children. Or a song that was playing in summer when we were 18 years old. This calms the nervous system and – if the associations are positive – triggers the release of endorphins. So what we smell changes our perception. The aroma of cedar puts us in a good mood, while jasmine and orange have a soothing effect. As does lavender. These are aromas that never fail to have an effect.

What is important, though, is that the aromas should never be considered in isolation, but always in conjunction with the specific application – space, music, interior design and so on.

What do I have to bear in mind if I am planning to use aromas at a point of sale?

Peter Wieser: It is undeniable that aromas change something within us. In physical terms, the phenomenon is easy enough to explain: aromas act on the limbic system and the hippocampus, which is the nerve centre for our memories. The limbic system, on the other hand, is the part of the brain that deals with emotions and impulses.

A human being’s intellectual capacity is also associated with this set of structures. Therefore, the limbic system, working in concert with the other parts of the brain, is what makes homo sapiens what it is. And a powerful marketing tool for “homo oeconomicus”, too! This explains how aromas can do unusual things to us. They kindle physical desire , shape our dreams, lift our moods and determine where we feel comfortable or otherwise. The latter gives aromatically-enhanced spaces a clear advantage over locations that have not been given such treatment. And the same goes for products. You just need to be clear about what you want the aroma to achieve.

After all, everyone has different associations with particular smells. There’s nothing more subjective than our memories. And geographical and cultural differences reveal that there are, in fact, distinctive “smellscapes”. In Germany, citrus is associated with cleanliness, while in the USA floral accents are signifiers of spotless spaces.

Which aromas are a real no-no?

Smell is a matter of taste, in a manner of speaking, and therefore highly subjective. But unpleasant external odours are never welcome, and these come up whatever the industry. Whether it is the stench of a garbage dump, the smell of a musty ski cellar or fryers in an industrial kitchen. And that is exactly what we target first at AROMEA: neutralising smells while creating a great olfactory experience on top.

Can every company benefit from the introduction of a corporate scent, or only certain ones?

It is a collaborative process, which means that it is impossible to generalise. As a rule, the key account manager and the client come together at AROMEA to narrow down the options, while we also define the “goals” of the corporate scent. This produces a shortlist of 3-4 samples that we present to the customer for evaluation.  Taking their feedback on board, we discuss the results until one of the proposed scents is a perfect match or requires only minor tweaks.

AROMEA strives to deliver outstanding results when both creating and presenting the prospective aromas, based on the values and criteria defined in advance with the client. Ultimately, it is a collaborative process and if the customer doesn’t stand to gain an advantage from it, we would not be involved in the first place.

Imagining for a moment that the brief is to help create a less formal working atmosphere, what aromas would you use?

Here, too, we can only draw on past experiences. If motivation and happiness are in short supply, then a few olfactory tricks can be used to deliver tangible (and smellable) results. The right aroma can create a sense of calm or help with motivation, concentration or relaxation. A natural Swiss pine aroma is one way to get the resting pulse rate down – pretty practical around the negotiating table [laughs].

According to a study by the Fraunhofer Institute, aromas are an extremely important element of any room and have a huge influence on wellbeing, output and stress levels. Anyone in a creative line of work should definitely tend towards cinnamon and vanilla notes. And anything on the citrus spectrum aids concentration. Peppermint and eucalyptus, meanwhile, can help combat tiredness and boredom. There really is the right aroma for every situation.

Peter Wieser, CEOs and mastermind behind AROMEA olfactory marketing.

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