When you shop, you are manipulated in myriad subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways. Everything from store layout to background music to package design is carefully planned to make you more likely to part with your hard-earned dollars. New Scientist reports that marketers are now learning to “recruit smell for the hard sell“:

Scent, marketeers say, is the final frontier in “sensory branding”. Of all our five senses, smell is thought to be the most closely linked to emotion because the brain’s olfactory bulb, which detects odours, fast-tracks signals to the limbic system, which links emotion to memories. Retailers hope that making this direct link to our emotions may seduce us into choosing their products over a competitor’s. “Branding is all about how a customer feels about a company or product — it’s an emotional connection with the customer,” says Randall Stone, a New York-based marketing expert.

Because smell is so strongly linked to emotion, and because individual responses to aromas differ widely, research has progressed slowly. Plus, corporations are afraid that their customers will be upset when they find out there’s yet another way to make them spend more money.

Much of retailers’ “hush-hush” attitude stems from fears that they will be accused of subliminal marketing… They don’t want to admit they are manipulating the store environment to trigger an almost Pavlovian response in customers.

Now, however, scent marketing has reached a level of sophistication and subtlety that makes it appealing to big-name companies like Samsung, Sony, and Verizon. Sure, the scents are designed to manipulate consumers, but they do so on such a low level that most people are never aware that it’s occurring.

Several studies have shown that pleasant scents encourage shoppers to linger over a product, increase the number of times they examine it and in some cases increase their willingness to pay higher prices too.

In one recent study, accepted for publication in the Journal of Business Research, Eric Spangenberg, a consumer psychologist and dean of the College of Business and Economics at Washington State University in Pullman, and his colleagues carried out an experiment in a local clothing store. They discovered that when “feminine scents”, like vanilla, were used, sales of women’s clothes doubled; as did men’s clothes when scents like rose maroc were diffused.

I’ve read about scent marketing before, and have tried to be watchful for it, but I rarely find myself where it might be used. (Comic book stores aren’t likely to use scent marketing, though perhaps they should.) Reading this article almost makes me want to drive to a mall to do research!

[New Scientist: Recruiting smell for the hard sell, via Mind Hacks]