On the corner of Dean Street and Oxford Street is a branch of Benetton. But several hundred feet before you get to it you can smell it. Benetton have developed a fragrance to brand their stores and it is called Ginger. You can’t actually buy it, although you can buy from a range of other room fragrances and eau de toilettes.
It is a powerful scent, not unpleasant, but it makes its presence felt and for me, on my way to the tube, it signals ‘home time’.
If you buy any clothing from Benetton the garments will smell of that fragrance until at least the second wash (I know because I have). I stood right next to a woman on the underground and I knew straightaway she had bought something from Benetton because of the smell of Ginger. (It doesn’t actually small anything like ginger as the friendly shop assistant and I agreed, but it’s a name that suggests power and vigour, feels appropriately unisex and is associated with a specific colour, which given the vibrant Benetton colour palette, all fits together very well).
Smell is still an under-used weapon in the brand armoury although this is changing. Hotels and shops are starting to realise that a brand makes its presence felt all the more strongly the more touchpoints it can create. Some of these touchpoints are involuntary, the smell of classic Molton Brown toiletries always makes me think BA but I don’t know how much that was part of the consideration when the airline struck a deal with the brand.
Uniquely, of all the senses, smell enables time-travel. We can all recognise tastes and sounds that we have experienced before but smell teleports us back into the past before we even know what the trigger is. I can’t smell the sandalwood fragrance of the traditional Imperial Leather cake of soap without being whisked back to my grandmother’s bathroom. It was such a disappointment to me when I discovered that not all Imperial Leather products smell the same.
We neglect the sensory properties of brands when they are opportunities just waiting to be exploited. Smell enables time travel but sound and texture offer a pretty powerful combination too. Nestle received some flak when they switched to flow wrap packaging for Kit Kat 4 finger, depriving the user of that sensuous pleasure of running their fingernail down the silver foil before sliding out the Kit Kat and snapping off a finger. I don’t think of Jeff Bezos as an aesthete but there is an immensely satisfying sound created when you rip open an Amazon parcel and tear the side strip along its perforations that feels unique to the brand. (I have heard that the real reason for the packaging being so easy to open is that Jeff is an impatient man and did not want to have to wait for a minute more than he needed to).
In an online world more and more brands rely purely on a visual experience and I feel they’re missing out. Aural branding helps online brands as Netflix and Microsoft know. I can’t be the only person who experiences a little flutter of excitement as the Netflix logo ripples and the familiar chord sounds and I know I’m settling in for a deeply pleasurable binge watch (by the way have you spotted that people use taste words to describe an experience that is purely visual?)
Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the return to vinyl and the slowdown in e-book sales. Vinyl feels weighty and satisfying to hold. Paper has a smell that your Kindle can’t replicate.
And surely that is the explanation too for the popularity of online clips that show swirling melted chocolate or play weird whispering sounds.
Human beings are creatures of the senses and brands that realise this should do their best to offer their consumers a multi-faceted sensory experience whenever they can. If a brand becomes associated with a sound or a smell or even a texture (think Jeff and the Amazon perforations) as well as a visual brand identity it can forge a much deeper relationship with its consumers and just as important can create a property that is uniquely its own.
Time to head off to Benetton and smell the ginger.