Scents That Linger in Memory


Chances are your favorite erasers when you were a child were scented. This wasn’t because they made erasing any easier, but the scent added novelty to an otherwise generic item. You might not care for scented items now, but a recent study shows that you will remember a product more if it ignites your olfactory system.

While it may seem a little strange, for manufacturers to attach various smells to products as unlikely as car tires and tennis balls, the element of surprise is exactly why it is effective. In a study (2010) by Krishna, Lwin and Morrin, it was discovered that product scent is particularly effective at enhancing recall of not only the product, but also product information. Attaching a scent enhances an item’s distinctiveness and makes it stand out within its category.

The study analyzed product recall of pencils both with and without a scent. Participants were told a series of facts about the pencils such as “includes superior lead” and “is endorsed with the Green Seal environment standard.” After a pronounced time delay, the consumers were asked what information they could remember about each type of pencil. Even after a significant time had passed, participants were considerably more knowledgeable about the pencils with a scent. What’s important to note is that the consumers never actually smelled the pencils – the mere mention of them having a fragrance was enough to improve their recall.

Novelty is an important part of why this works. Attaching a scent to something traditionally not fragranced adds an element of mystery to the product and ignites interest through curiosity. An example is footwear brand Melissa; the first brand to infuse their shoes with the smell of bubblegum. While the scent does not last forever, it is one of the most discussed features of their shoes.

The ability of scent to significantly improve product recall is an attractive reason to move into the realm of scent marketing. So don’t be surprised if your nose starts picking up scents on all kinds of unexpected products.