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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Since the last decade, the influence of olfactory stimuli on consumers is undergoing amplified research, as well as increasing attention from marketing practitioners. This article presents a much-needed systematic review of extant research on the olfactory cues in consumer behavior. Regarding the significance of this topic, the authors present a comprehensive summary of latest findings in this area of research. The conducted Literature review covers the period between 2000 and 2018. Thematic areas comprise the effect of scent on consumer's perception, memory, evaluation, behavior, as well as spending and emotions. The contribution of this article is of great significance to scent marketing literature as it includes the most relevant and contemporary research, highlights the main thematic areas linked to stimulus olfaction, in addition to its analysis procedure and its systematic article selection centered on both reliability and validity. This review proposes an extensive research agenda to help move the scent marketing literature forward.

Keywords: Smell, Scent Marketing, Olfaction, Odor, Smell, Aroma


This review tracks the deep-rooted practice of a systematic literature review, which is expressed as “means of identifying, evaluating and interpreting all available research relevant to a particular research question, or topic area or phenomenon of interest” .The prime aim of a systematic review is to summarize empirical data on a specific theme exploiting an objective review process  . The review targeted articles published after 2000. The literature search shows that it was mainly after 2000 that scent marketing began to attract academic research. Therefore, our sample include scent marketing articles published between 2000 and 2018. To extract relevant articles, the authors explored multiple databases including EBSCO, ProQuest, Science Direct and Web of science. These databases were explored for articles including “scent” “smell” “odors” “olfaction” “olfactory” “Sense of smell” and “perfumes” in their titles, keywords or abstracts. After dispensing articles published in numerous journals (J. Marketing, J. Psychology. Business research, J. consumer behavior…), 35 eligible articles were obtained.

In order to synthesize the extracted articles, the authors developed a comprehensive classification framework focusing on reliability and validity criteria. The first criterion to investigate whether the study is done well is reliability; that is, if the same researcher would get the same results if conducting the study at a different time. The authors examined the reliability and validity of articles based on citation frequency, findings consistency over a period of time and the type of experiment conducted. After checking the sources, citations, verifying credentials, and cross-checked sources out of all articles, four are selected as the most reliable and valid.  The following section discusses the results of articles analyses as well as the categorization of variables.

Findings Evaluation and Discussion

The systematic review exposes a hierarchically structured framework (see Table above). This outline contains two experiments categories both in field and laboratory, each conducted in four conceivable approaches: Experiment, survey, observation and survey based on experiment. In turn, they explore and describe the effect of scent on consumer perception, memory, evaluation, behavior, as well as spending and emotions.

Table 2 shows the structured criteria selected to choose the most relevant articles, which consist of reliability and validity. This leads to conclusion that four articles appear to be considerably more valid and reliable. They have been cited more than 80 times and are mostly based on experiments.  Following this, the authors report analysis for the four articles respectively.

• Smellizing Cookies and Salivating: A Focus on Olfactory Imagery

The authors in this research assessed the effect of olfactory imagery on consumer response measured through salivation, consumption and desire to eat. The research considered four different studies (1) Impact of imagining the food scent of a visible ad on salivation, (2) Effect of imagining the food scent of an unobserved ad on salivation, (3) the effect of the interaction between olfactory and visual imagery on food consumption dependent on “No scent, actual scent, no picture, imagine picture, actual picture “variables, and (4) Effect of individual visual imagery ability when exposing to an advertised food product's scent on desire to eat. The foundation of these studies is based on three experiments and one observation. It was elaborated in the first study that imagining the scent of an exposed picture increases consumer's salivation; in contrast to that, results in the second study show that imagining scent without a visual referent has no significant effect on salivation; however, actual scent enhances salivation unrelatedly to visual input presence. The third study demonstrates the great dependence of olfactory imagery on visual processing, this means imagining the scent of food in an ad increases its consumption only when the ad has a picture of the food; the reason stem from the easiness of generating a strong picture of the food when imagining it; whereas visual processing is less dependent on olfactory imagery. The results for consumption in study 3 are contrasting the findings for salivation in the previous study; this dissimilarity is explained by the difference between actual and anticipated consumption.  The last study results indicate that seeing the picture of the advertised food after smelling its odor increased considerably the desire to eat amongst customers displaying slight visual imaging capacity but not among those demonstrating high visual imaging capability. The four studies demonstrate and agreed upon the enormous relation and interplay of scent and pictures.  

• Cross-Modal Interactions Between Olfaction and Touch

In many literatures, the odor is known as a powerful emotional stimulus influencing mood, behavior, memory. This article extends the scope of empirical scent marketing in different direction which focus on exploring the type of cross-modal interactions between olfaction and touch. In a carefully controlled two-part experiments, scientists began by measuring the impact of scent on the touchy-feely of fabric softness. The results for this experiment reveal that the simultaneous presence of a lemon odor had the effect that participants rated the four fabric swatches as softer than when they smelled an animal odor; hence, the pleasant lemon odor versus an unpleasant animal odor influences the perceived softness of fabric swatches. The second experiment investigates whether the usage of altered lemon odor with lavender one is to lead to a more noticeable and significant influence on tactile perception. The results of the second experiment are consistent with the results of the former study, as the participants considered the feeling when touching the fabrics softer in the existence of lavender odor than with the animal odor. The results of both experiments exhibit the proof of a significant interaction between olfaction and touch.

• Impact of ambient odors on mall shoppers' emotions, cognition, and spending

Chebat and Michon (2003) study extended the research on scent marketing into multi-dimension setting, as far as the consumer mall shopping emotions, cognition and spending are concerned. It is the first study to conduct ambient scent experiment on actual retail location, providing a more complete understanding of consumer mall shopping behavior from different perspectives. A two-step experiment analysis for control group and experimental group were conducted in order to test the consumer emotions, cognition and spending in the mall. In the former, the shopping mall ambient fragrance remained the same, with no mediating modification; whereas in the latter experiment, an ambient pleasant scent was diffused in the corridor of the mall. The results show that the combined effect of scent on shoppers' mood is almost insignificant but influenced highly the perception of the product and the shopping environment; furthermore, Consumer spending is primarily influenced by the perception of product quality rather than by mood, which contributes very little on spending. These findings demonstrate ambient scent indirect impact on the shopper's spending. A following research on “Use of scent in stores” Andrew G. Parsons” (2009) conducted the same experiment, their findings were consistent with chebat and Michon (2003) conclusions while underlining that the scent needs to have a perceived connection with the store-type in order to gain positive scent reactions.

• Product scent and memory  

Odor memory is a crucial feature of olfactory cognition. Although limited studies in the literature have explored the relationship between olfaction and memory, KRISHNA, LWIN and MORRIN 2009 work has examined the way product smell triggers memories. The research considered two different field studies (1) Comparing participants ability to memorize information associated to an odorless pencil versus two kinds of odorous pencils (one with a less and one with a more common pencils scent) (2) Comparing product scent and ambient scent ability to improve product information memorization. It was concluded in the first study

that the common scent was more effective at enhancing recall in the short term and the medium term; however, both types of scents were equally effective in the long term. It is demonstrated in this study that information may be initially easier to encode with a common scent but information that has been encoded with the uncommon scent are stronger and more resistant to decay. The results for study two demonstrate that product scent was more effective than ambient scent at enhancing memory for product related information; moreover, the scented products lead to enhance the long-term memory for all the attributes related to it.  


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