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M.Sc. Denise Maiwald, Projektmanagerin bei Assure Consulting GmbH Prof. Aaron Ahuvia, PhD, Full Professor an der University of Michigan-Dearborn, Michigan, USA Prof. Dr. Björn S. Ivens, Inhaber des Lehrstuhls für BWL, insbes. Marketing, an der Otto- Friedrich-Universität Bamberg M.Sc. Philipp A. Rauschnabel, Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Lehrstuhl für BWL, insbes. Marketing, an der Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg


The research reported here is the first to study the effects of a brand specific scent, on consumer evaluations of a competing brand. An experimental study was conducted two competing brands of skin cream, Nivea and Balea. Nivea is a premium brand with a well known scent, Balea is a popular value priced store brand that does not have a strong scent. When consumers were exposed to a background scent of Nivea, their evaluations for both brands became more positive. Most importantly however, purchase preference switched from 64% prefering Nivea in the control group with no background scent, to 59% prefering Balea in the experimental group exposed to the background scent of Nivea. We call it a hijacking effect, because the simple presence of a background scent belonging to the premium brand Nivea, allowed the value brand Balea to hijack many of the positive mental associations which constitute Nivea’s brand equity, thus dramatically increasing consumer purchase intention for the value brand.

An economic downturn tends to make consumers less willing to buy and more price conscious when they do, thus putting downward pressure on prices. This paper explores some of the ways that scent can be used to maintain or increase profits when facing overall contracting demand and competitive price pressures. Broadly speaking, there are three ways that brands can respond to contracting demand and downward price pressures (Nordhielm 2006): (1) reduce costs to engage in price competition, (2) take market share from the competition by increasing the perceived positive differentiation of their products, or (3) grow the product category by stimulating overall consumer demand for one’s own company and the competition alike. For producer brands such as Mercedes or Nivea, scent is usually a tactic employed in the second of these strategies, increased product differentiation (Shiu, Walker and Cheng 2006). However, for brick-and-mortar retailers who carry products from several competing manufacturers, the story becomes more complex, and hence more interesting. When these retailers employ the second strategy of taking share from competing stores, they may employ pleasant scents in their store as a tactic to create a more enjoyable shopping experience, and thus a competitive advantage. But when these retailers look inward, at what the consumer does once they enter the store, the retailer has an interest in both strategy 3 and strategy 2. With strategy 3, they wish to increase the total purchases of all the brands within their store. Music is commonly used to help retailers achieve this goal. By decreasing a consumer's level of boredom, music encourages consumers to shop longer, and hence buy more. Pleasant scents can be used in a similar way, to make the shopping experience more enjoyable, and therefore longer (Spangenberg, Crowley and Henderson 1996). Yet even after a consumer enters their store, brick-and-mortar retailers still have an interest in strategy 2; that is to say, the retailers are not only interested in increasing total spending, but also in shifting sales from lower margin to higher-margin products. Can scent be used specifically to promote higher-margin brands? As shown in an experimental study, the answer is yes. But before that specific process is discussed, we will look more broadly at multi-sensory marketing.

Scent and Consumer Beh avior

The use of scent in marketing is part of a broader interest in sensory marketing (Krishna 2010). Purchases are often the result of a holistic sense-impression. As Pine and Gilmore (1998, p 104) note, the ‘more senses experiences engage, the more effective and memorable it can be’. According to the law of multi-sensory reinforcement (Nölke and Gierke 2011), messages sent to

the brain through several sensory channels are processed faster and more intensely than a single incoming signal. Therefore, brands using multi-sensory marketing may be able to generate more attention and information storage in memory, while also improving information processing by the brain. All of which helps explain why multi-sensual brands command higher prices (Lindstrom


Because we are always breathing, scent is a constant, although frequently non-conscious, part of our experience. Shiu, Walker and Cheng (2006) conducted a meta-analysis of the research on scent and consumer behavior. Over 55% of the studies they reviewed found that scent significantly affects whether people like or dislike a product, and 43% of the studies demonstrated that a consumer’s intention to return to the store is positively influenced by scent. Furthermore, pleasant and congruent fragrances can increase a consumer’s willingness to pay higher prices (Fiore, Yah and Yoh 2000). Why does scent have such powerful effects on consumer behavior? Neuroscientific findings and several empirical studies have shown that applying sensory stimuli can trigger strong emotions and therefore may draw the buying behavior in a desired direction (Krishna 2010). Because 75% of human emotions are triggered by smell (Lindstrom 2005), scent has an especially high potential for marketing. "All of the other senses, you think before you respond, but with scent, your brain responds before you think," says Scholder Ellen (Scholder Ellen and Bone 1998). Some might go even further by saying that emotions are controlled by scents just like by a remote control. Studies demonstrate that scents have a strong effect on mood and physical performance. Fragrance can cause a positive state of mind and therefore trigger impulse purchases (Billieux, Rochat, My Lien Rebetz and van der Linden 2008). Fragrances are also able to lower the perceived length of stay in the store (Spangenberg, Crowley and Henderson 1996). When consumers feel better and stay longer in stores, sales could increase, too. Casinos in Las Vegas, United States, reported that by using fragrances up to 45 percent more money was spent. This increased gambling is likely due in part to extending the gambler’s stay and creating a positive emotional state (Hirsch 1995). But research has also found that pleasant scents can increase risk- taking (Orth and Bourrain 2005), which is also relevant to gambling. Casinos aside, pleasant room fragrances can increase a consumer’s search for variety and curiosity (Orth and Bourrain 2005), which could be valuable for getting trial of newly introduced products.

Fragrance can even direct a consumer’s attention. If a consumer perceives a smell, he or she will automatically rotate the head in the direction of the source of fragrance when it is either perceived as a particularly pleasant or surprising smell. Thus, attention can be directed to a product without having noticeable visual stimuli (Scholder Ellen and Bone 1998).

How to apply s cent in marketing

Bradford and Desrochers (2009) distinguish between three types of scent marketing: (1) using scent as part of an advertising or promotions campaign, (2) scents as products such as in perfumes or air fresheners, and (3) ambient fragrances, usually in retail stores, but also sometimes at trade fairs and events (Steiner 2011). In this paper, the focus is on ambient fragrances. One of the easiest methods of environmental scenting is used in some old Viennese coffee houses. Early in the morning before opening the shop the floor is sprinkled with fresh coffee. The customer can smell the aroma of fresh coffee the moment he enters the shop (Kilian 2007). Another common approach is to distribute the scent through the air conditioning system (Emsenhuber 2011). Many retailers have also started using purpose built fragrance terminals. These terminals can either spray the entire store with a scent, or spray the scent in a specified time and place, such as during a particular scene in a commercial being shown at the point of sale. These scent terminals are sometimes built into product displays at department stores to create olfactory displays (Steiner 2011). However, other olfactory displays stick with the more traditional approach of using scented product samples or small scented give-aways. For example, the company Suchard distributed little key pendants shaped like chocolate, which also smelled like chocolate (Knoblich, Scharf and Schubert 2003). Even in print advertising olfactory marketing is applicable. Here fragrances can be positioned on the product by using special fragrance pigments. Furthermore, magazines can label advertisements with a so called ‘scratch and sniff panel’. The consumer simply needs to rub this application to set free specific fragrances (Scholder Ellen and Bone 1998). The car manufacturer Rolls Royce, for example, placed an ad in an American magazine using scent strips, which set free the smell of leather to give the reader a stronger impression of exclusive cars. Several companies and scholars are currently developing several future applications. Most of the latest technical developments in olfactory marketing come from Japan, which plays a pioneering role in the scent marketing market. Some examples are televisions with which exude fragrances during

commercial breaks or even mobile phones. In this context, another hot topic is the internet as scent marketing, predicted to be on the market in 2015 (Gaye 2010).

Study: The competition of fragrances

Despite the growing research on this topic, the ways scent influences consumer perceptions of competing brands is still largely unexplored. In this paper it is proposed that ambient scent can allow a less well-known brand to ‘ride on the coattails’ (that is, to take a free ride on someone else’s accomplishments) of an iconic competitor, even to the point of taking share from the better known brand. Scent has a powerful ability to conjure up memories (Morrin and Ratneshwar 2000); or stated in terms of psychological theory, to activate networks of mental associations. This is commonly experienced when a familiar scent sends one hurtling back in time, bringing to mind some previous experience. But these memories are not like the specific facts a student memorizes when studying for an exam. These memories are much more diffuse and evocative experiences. This is because these memories are usually created through multiple experiences in which as smell is associated with a particular type place, occasion or event. So the memory is in the form of a fuzzy generality, rather than a very specific event. (This is of course not always the case. Some olfactory memories are created in connection with very specific, and sometimes traumatizing, events. In which case, the memory would also be tied to that specific event or set of facts.) This in turn, provides an opportunity for Brand-A to hijack the mental associations connected to the scent of Brand-B. If, as is not the case, the smell of Brand-B led people to remember a specific list of facts (i.e. Brand-B has been proven superior in laboratory tests), then using scent to evoke these memories would only benefit Brand-B. But, if the scent of brand B activates a complex network of positive mental associations, and if Brand-A can associate itself with those memories, then it can also benefit from those associations. For example, if an olfactory display for Brand-A produces the smell of Brand-B, consumers will connect some of their mental associations with Brand-B, to Brand-A, thus allowing Brand-A to hijack some of Brand-B’s brand equity. This hypothesis is tested in the following experimental laboratory study.

Research Design Students (n=83) from a German University were randomly selected and assigned into an experimental (n=44) or a control group (n=39). The sample consists of 62.4 percent females and

35.3 percent males. The average age is 24.1 (SD=2.33). The two groups show a comparable socio-demographic structure. Both groups were surveyed with an identical computer questionnaire in a laboratory. All external ambient-related influences, such as temperature, light etc. were kept on a constant level throughout the entire investigation to ensure that the effects can be attributed to the scent of the room and not to any other stimuli. In the experimental group, the laboratory was scented with a common scent of a hand crème (Nivea), while no scent was used within the control group. Each respondent was surveyed towards the main brand, Nivea, and towards a competing brand, Balea. Those Brands were chosen as both have high brand awareness (100% in our sample). Furthermore, Nivea is a premium brand with famous corporate fragrance, while Balea is a private label store brand and is not associated with a specific fragrance. If our hypothesis is correct, Balea should benefit from having the ambient scent of Nivea present in the experimental condition. This experimental design presents a particularly conservative test of our hypothesis. Instead of simply rating Balea both with, and without, the ambient scent of Nivea in the room, respondents rated both Balea and Nivea. Because subjects rated both brands, their brains were given the opportunity to fully account for the ambient Nivea scent, by mentally connecting that scent only with the Nivea brand. Thus, if the scent of Nivea benefits Balea under these difficult conditions, it shows that this effect is fairly robust. The effects from the Nivea scent on consumer perceptions of a brand were measured in several ways on scales ranging from 1 to 5, where higher values represent higher degrees of an item. First, attitude towards the brands was measured using a common, reliable scale of three items (negative…positive, unfavorable…favorable, bad…good; Nivea: α=.906; Balea: α=.948). Buying intention and positive word-of-mouth were measured with each one item (“I would buy this brand” and “I would recommend this brand to friends”). Furthermore, a set of brand-related attributes was used (This brand is/has… (1) inexpensive, (2) a good quality, (3) trustworthy, (4) appealing packaging, (5) a good image, (6) positive experiences, (7) dynamic, (8) modern, (9) attractive, (10) unique, (11) innovative, (12) sympathetic, (13) traditional, (14) advertising presence, (15) attitude, and (16) buying intention). Finally, respondents were asked about their preference where they had to distinguish between Nivea and Balea.

Results Means were calculated for each construct in both groups. Further ANOVAs were conducted to measure the effects from the scent on the perception of the brand between the control- and the experimental group. Figure one visualizes the results for Nivea, whose scent was used in the experimental groups. Replicating prior findings, the evaluation of Nivea is better in all dimensions, except uniqueness and innovativeness. More specificly, significant differences were found for trustworthiness ( r =+.41; p=.019), good image ( r =.47; p=.001), positive experiences ( r =+.50; p=.019), and for the perception of the brand as sympathetic ( r =.58; p=.002). The other differences were not significant on a 10%-level, but they indicate further positive effects on other evaluative dimensions of the corresponding scent brand.

evaluative dimensions of the corresponding scent brand. Simil ar results were found for Balea. The results

Similar results were found for Balea. The results are presented in figure two. In most evaluative dimensions, Balea performed better when it was presented with the fragrance of Nivea

than without any scent. More specificly; significant differences were found for quality ( r =+.451; p=.016), trustworthiness (r =+.453; p=.015), good image ( r =+.360, p=.076), and the perception of the brand as sympathetic ( r =+.401; p=.063).

of the brand as sympathetic ( r =+.401; p=.063). Next, the effect of fragrance on product

Next, the effect of fragrance on product choice was investigated using a contingency analysis (2x2 cross tabulation). The results indicate that respondents in the experimental group preferred Balea to Nivea more often than did their counterparts in the control group, and that this difference was statistically significant ( χ²=4.45; p=.029). For both brands the overall evaluation of all items was higher within the experimental group than within the control group. For Nivea, the average difference of all before mentioned and measured criteria between the two groups was +.227, and +.205 for Balea. As shown in figure 3 more than 64 percent of the control group would prefer Nivea over Balea if they had to choose between the two brands. Whereas in the experimental group only 41 percent would choose Nivea over Balea. This clearly shows that the choice shares flip between conditions and Belea hijacks the choice share of Nivea.

Preference of Nivea and Balea Nivea Balea
Preference of Nivea and Balea

Control group Experimental group


20% 40%


80% 100%

Note: χ ² (83)=4.45; p (one -tailed) =.029


This research shows that a private label value brand (Balea), can hijack some of the brand equity of a famous premium brand (Nivea), by using the ambient scent of the premium brand in the shopping environment. The results clearly indicate that Balea was evaluated more positively by subjects in the experimental group than from those of the control group. Secondly, the results show that the scent has an effect on similar dimensions of a brand perception for both brands, in particular trust, good image, and sympathy. Moreover, these effects occur even when the premium brand is also present in the mind of the consumer. With regard to Nivea, the results also replicate findings from prior studies: In general, the use of scent leads to a better evaluation of the brand. Those findings lead to important implications for managers. As investigated in prior studies, the use of scent has a positive effect on the perception of a brand and on the purchase interest. From the view of Nivea, that means that the brand is perceived better when it is presented together with the own corporate fragrance than without. Hence, a manager from Nivea should present their brand together with their scent in order to enhance the consumer interest in this brand, providing their brand can be isolated from the competition in its own display area. New applications might help managers to do this, for example the earlier mentioned fragrance terminals or scratch and sniff panels. At the same time, a manager from Nivea must be careful to not take the risk of supporting competing brands with Nivea’s scent. Hence, from the view of a strong brand, it is important to use fragrance – in the best case – away from competing products, for instance, by using separate stand-alone scented displays. On the other hand, managers from brands without a specific scent can benefit from the fragrances of other brands. Managers do not necessarily have to invest in their own fragrances (which is still advisable). They could use a competitor’s scent as an ambient odor around their product displays, and hijack the brand equity of their more famous competitor.

Our findings have important theoretical implications. They show that established fragrances also have an impact on the evaluation of competing brands. This finding is similar to findings from the literature on co-branding. Prior studies revealed that the presentation of a new brand together with strong brands helps new brands (e. g. Voss and Tansuhaj 2008). This is similar to our finding: A brand which is not associated by a specific scent can benefit from existing and established fragrances. Taken together, when marketers use scent in their marketing, they should always have a look at the effects of competing brands. Our study, however, also has its limitations. First of all, the study was conducted in a laboratory experimental design. Hence, external validity may be limited. Furthermore, the study is based on a small sample and thus no other control- and moderating variables were included. It also focused on only two brands. As no unpopular brands from specific product categories were included, a limited generalizability can be postulated. Future studies should address these limitations. Furthermore, the adoption of studies on other senses, such as taste or sound, should be investigated, as well as the presence of two or more competing products. Hence, the study also points out several directions for future research. Taken together, this article shows the huge potential of olfactory marketing, but also points out the limitations for famous and popular scent-brands.

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