Brands Pick Consumers' Brains — and Scan Them

Brain scanning is being used to help predict how shoppers will respond to products and shopping environments.

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Experts said the increased interest in sensory marketing — appealing to smell, hearing, taste, touch and sight — also has been spurred by companies seeking to innovate.

Researchers at Concordia University in Montreal have concluded that sensory marketing influences consumers’ choices. Anyone whose taste buds have responded to the aroma of chocolate, pizza or fresh-baked doughnuts has experienced a form of it.

The goal is to get consumers’ attention and commitment in a tough marketplace.

“You don’t see these details in companies’ marketing strategies — this kind of stuff doesn’t get written and documented,” said Robert Passikoff, brand strategist and president of New York-based brand agency Brand Keys Inc. “There is no financial measure for sensory marketing. How a visual layout of a store affects a retailer’s financial performance, for example, is difficult to measure.”

Passikoff added, “You can’t turn off your sense of smell. A connection to positive consumer experience has to do with scent, because it’s obvious. So the challenge for retailers and fashion brands is to tap into all the senses and come up with ways to affect consumers through the store experience. The experience becomes the differentiator.”

Abercrombie & Fitch has spent more than $3 million in the last two years on machines that generate its “Fierce” fragrance in the chain’s more than 350 locations. The retailer filed a lawsuit last month seeking to block Beyoncé Knowles from launching a perfume with Coty Inc. under the name of her alter ego, Sasha Fierce. A&F said its “intent is that all garments that leave the store have the Fierce scent attached to them.”

The teen retailer’s sensory marketing strategy goes beyond fragrance.

“From the product to the store design to the visual experience they’re throwing at you — it’s a multisensory approach,” said Harald Vogt, founder and chief marketer of Scarsdale, N.Y.-based Scent Marketing Institute. “Stores are dark inside, and they highlight products with light…you can see the images of half-naked models on the walls. Music is blaring….They want to drive traffic, they want to pull you in.”

Disney, with help from Apple Inc. chief executive officer Steven Jobs, a board member, is said to be considering a makeover of its 340 stores that will make them interactive spaces akin to a theme park with recreation options ranging from karaoke contests to stores made to smell like a Christmas tree.

The recession-battered auto industry is rolling out scents in dealerships, including vanilla, leather and grapefruit.

“The goal is for a scent to make people feel comfortable,” said Spence Levy, president of Miami-based Air Aroma America, which provides scent marketing systems. “You want light, easy scents — nothing complex. Complex is a turnoff in the brain.”

Thomas Pink stores have long used a signature scent.

“You don’t see this publicized in their marketing strategy, which is similar to many of these other retailers,” Vogt said. “You walk into a store that sells shirts in bright colors and ties — you have that light, floral, citrus scent, and that’s what highlights the experience and complements the product.”

Thomas Pink president and ceo Jonathan Heilbron said the “fresh line-dried linen” scent is intended “to enhance the shopping experience.”

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