How nostalgia can be utilized in scent marketing


For a while now we have known that memory and scent are connected, and as an aircare company, we are always looking at ways to utilize this to make the maximum impact. Companies are increasingly using scent as a sense of nostalgia – a way to connect to their audiences, and in particular, to influence their decisions – whether that be buying something in a shop or returning to a hotel venue.

When a smell enters the nose, it travels through the olfactory bulb, which helps the brain to process smells. The olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system, which is the emotional center of the brain. This is where the smell starts to conjure up recollections, with different fragrance notes (top notes, middle notes and base notes) conjuring up different memories.

With this is mind, understanding which smells invoke positive memories can help create positive associations to a particular product, service or venue. One sector looking to capitalize on this could be the retail sector. A recent report by Credit Suisse estimated that across the USA, 20-25% of malls would shut between 2017 and 2022, largely because of store closures. Retailers announced that more than 8,600 stores would close this year alone.

With the rise of the online giants like Amazon, and retail stores facing increasingly tough competition online, it’s crucial that store managers find ways of bringing their retail environments to life. Why do people travel to places like Nordstrom to do their shopping? Because now, it’s all about the ‘experience’.

Do fragrances tell a story? Yes, they do. Perfumers work with 500-1000 ingredients in their palette. If you’ve ever blended your own perfume, you would understand the importance of each individual ingredient and how they each tell a story. For example, the smell of pine could conjure up the experience of walking through a forest.

Stories help to create a ‘fragrance experience’, which appeals to a customer’s sense of nostalgia and their positive memories. As a retailer, we should be asking questions like ‘how would we like our customer to feel when they experience our scent?’ Penhaglions fragrance house has an online fragrance quiz which asks questions like:

“How would you like to feel when you wear it?”
“Where you could see the fragrance being worn”
“If the fragrance was a fabric, what would it be”


It then suggests the best fragrance matched to your answers. These types of questions help to dive deeper into a fragrance and its connection to our senses. The more we can connect to our senses the stronger the fragrance (and product, or venue) will imprint on our minds.

But it’s not just about creating wonderful fragrances to appeal to people’s nostalgia – they need to be delivered in a way that will provide impact. Manufacturers are using new technologies to develop different ways of delivering these flavors, whether that be in liquid, granulated, powdered or solid form. Increasingly, we are becoming aware of the use of potentially harmful chemicals in fragrances and the fact that these are becoming more regulated, and so more natural materials are being used.

Ultimately, creativity mixed with technical expertise and market awareness means that we can truly explore scents’ connection with nostalgia.

By Paul Wonnacott, Managing Director & Founder of Vectair Systems. 

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