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Posted 10.06.04

Sweet Smells Spur Sales, Researchers Find

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The enticing smell of apple pie in a supermarket bakery might flood shoppers with memories of Grandma or a summer holiday, coaxing them to buy. A team of researchers, including University of Missouri-Columbia marketing professor S. Ratneshwar, conducted two studies to examine the effects of scent on recall and recognition of brands, finding that scent can increase brand memory.

"Environmental fragrancing is becoming a common practice in service-oriented businesses," Ratneshwar said. "The effect of scent on consumer behavior has emerged as an important theoretical and empirical issue. We addressed this issue by examining the effect of pleasant ambient scents on brand memory in two studies."

Ratneshwar and Maureen Morrin, a marketing professor at Rutgers University, examined the relationship between scents and brand memory in controlled laboratory experiments. The experiment participants were asked to evaluate digital photographs of familiar and foreign products on computer screens. The computer covertly measured the amount of time participants viewed each brand. For some of the participants, a hidden diffuser released a very low level of a pleasant fragrance into the room while the experiment was in progress.

The next day, the participants were given a surprise memory test. They were asked to recall as many brands as possible from those they had seen on the previous day. Participants also were administered a brand recognition test. Ratneshwar and Morrin found that brand recall as well as recognition accuracy increased significantly in the scented conditions when compared with the unscented conditions.

"Our results suggest that scent influences brand memory because it results in longer attention spans at the time of stimulus viewing, thereby creating deeper memory traces that are more easily retrieved," Ratneshwar said. "Basically, pleasant scents appear to induce consumers to spend more time in a particular environment, which in turn improves their memory for stimuli such as products and brands in that environment."

Ratneshwar and Morrin reported their research in an article in the Journal of Marketing Research.


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