Participants in a study were asked to close their eyes and envision a different reality. More specifically, they were asked to “smellize” – a combination of visualizing plus using an imagined sense of smell to conjure up the idea of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and chocolate cake.
They began to salivate, and marketing professor Maureen Morrin was able to prove her theory: that imagining the smell of a product makes the consumer want to buy the product more.
Morrin is one of three authors of a new study aiming to prove this theory.
There has been little work done in recent years to prove this theory, and there are still not many agreements as to whether this phenomena exists, Morrin said.
Morrin said her and the other co-authors were interested in seeing if consumers would want a tasty product more if they were prompted to imagine that product’s smell, a term they coined as “smellizing.”
Morrin and the other researchers searched for examples of smellizing in media print ads and found none. Although they were able to find ads that delivered an odor or prompted a consumer to imagine a taste, there were no ads that prompted imagining a smell.
Morrin predicted that most advertisers believe that doing so will not be effective, but as it turns out, it may be a valuable marketing method for advertisers.
“We were talking about the idea of factory imagery – which is kind of like visual imagery – you can see something in your mind when you’re not actually seeing it,” Morrin said. “So we wondered, could you do the same things with smell and odors?”
Undergraduate students from Temple, the University of Michigan and Koç University in Istanbul were used as test subjects in the study and were typically business students enrolled in a marketing or psychology course, participating for a course credit. The results did not differ by location and were ultimately the same across the three schools, Morrin said.
The team measured the consumer’s desire through the test subjects, telling them they wanted the product, as well as salivation levels. Participants were given images of chocolate chip cookies and chocolate cake to smellize and were later given an actual product to eat. As a result, the study found that smellizing does increase the desire for a product.
It was also found that this method only works when the consumer is both imagining the odor while looking at an image of the product they are imagining.
“It is highly dependent on visual input and someone’s ability to visually imagine the thing at the same time,” Morrin said. “That’s kind of the key finding. I don’t think others have shown that.”
As for what is next, Morrin said a few more studies on factory imagery are going to be run to test its impact on people’s ability to remember things.
“Now we’re looking at the effect on memory,” Morrin said. “Can you remember things where you tried to remember its odor and seeing if you can remember those things better.”
Logan Beck can be reached at email@example.com.