Now you know: Fragrances aid brand recognition

Thursday, March 10, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:16 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What was learned: A group of researchers, including MU marketing professor S. “Ratti” Ratneshwar, discovered that smells can enhance brand recall and recognition.

How we know: Ratneshwar and Maureen Morrin, a marketing professor at Rutgers University in Camden, N.J., conducted two studies to examine the effects of scent on memory for brands. In controlled lab experiments, participants evaluated photographs of familiar and novel products they saw on the computer screen while the computer measured the time the participants viewed the brand. For some participants, a hidden diffuser released a low level of fragrance into the room during the viewing process.

Participants returned the following day and were given a surprise memory test, where they had to recall and recognize brands from the previous day. The researchers found that accuracy in both tasks increased significantly among the participants whose rooms were scented.

What it means: “Our results suggest that a pleasant scent causes participants to spend more time viewing the brands, thereby causing recall and recognition to increase simply because they spent more time in a particular environment,” Ratneshwar said. “Humans who are in an enjoyable environment will spend more time in it, possibly subconsciously.”

Why it matters: Environmental fragrancing is becoming a common practice in service-oriented businesses such as casinos and stores. “Our study suggests that ambient scents may help to keep people in such environments longer,” Ratneshwar said. “It is a somewhat controversial practice with obvious ethical concerns. Also, some people may be allergic; it is not as if you can get everybody’s consent.”

Where to find more information: This research has been published in the “Journal of Marketing Research.”

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