Researchers have found that every person has a unique smell, similar to a fingerprint or “voice print.” These smell prints are called olfactory signatures, and are influenced by genetic factors, body odors and secretions. Just like through a fingerprint, a person can be identified by their olfactory signature. Multiple studies have shown that babies and small children can identify the smell of their mothers – and vice versa. In fact, some researchers suggest that olfactory communication is developed well before visual and auditory communication.
In adults, pheromones are chemical messengers emitted into the environment from the body (from glands located in armpits and genitals) to activate psychological or behavioral responses from others. Pheromones also act to attract and repel others. Research in this area involved men wearing masks while rating descriptions of female job candidates. Some masks were odorless and others were sprayed with androstenol, the scent produced by fresh male sweat. Men rated women more favorably when wearing the odorless mask.
Using scent to our advantage: less is more?
Perfume has been marketed for decades as a gateway to success. Most advertising campaigns for perfumes and colognes share the same narrative of using the scent as a way to become attractive towards people from the opposite sex. However, to what extent is this the case? On the one hand, different people prefer different scents. On the other hand, wearing perfume (or too much of it) could work against the wearer.
Research by Aune and Aune in 2008 suggests that too much perfume, like too much makeup, is actually a turn off. In a study, people were interviewed by women that either wore no perfume, light perfume (1 spray), moderate perfume (2-3 sprays) or too much perfume (5-6 sprays). Men rated women interviewers most physically attractive when they were wearing light perfume. What’s more, women interviewers found men most attractive when they were wearing no perfume. In other words, an excessive perfume condition didn’t benefit anyone.
Smell and AI: creating a digital nose
Our sense of smell works through our noses, which process odor molecules released by objects around us. When energy in objects increases (through pressure, agitation, or temperature changes), odors evaporate, making it possible for us to inhale them. Aryballe, a startup that uses artificial intelligence and digital olfaction technology to mimic the human sense of smell, helps their business customers turn odor data into actionable information. Digital olfaction mimics the way humans smell by capturing odor signatures using biosensors, then using software solutions to analyze and display the odor data. Artificial Intelligence (AI) interprets the signatures and classifies them based on a database of previously collected smells.
If we could analyze and classify scent at such a scale and analyze it through machine learning – could we create the perfect scent for any occasion? The right room spray to help us during a negotiation process? A perfume that could help us get a promotion or close a deal?
Scent marketing: a profitable way to communicate
Scent marketing is an established discipline. If you have ever entered a Zara Home store, you would smell the same scent of jasmine, in each store all around the world. Beyond retail, scent marketing is used as an effective way to communicate in sectors like banking, hotels, consumer products, and automobiles. Ford worked with a specialized sensory company and a perfumer to develop a unique scent for their brand Lincoln, which they hoped would heighten the feeling of luxury and prestige.
On the one hand, scents are memorable so marketers use olfactory cues as a way to make their brand memorable. On the other hand, certain smells can boost sales. According to research done by Washington State University, the simple smell of orange has helped shoppers to spend 20% more in a home store in St.Gallen.
If we treat ourselves as a “brand”, what would be our signature scent? Is it making us memorable and likeable in the eyes of others? Is it serving our purpose in life and/or business? Or is it time to look for a new scent?