Starting today, pedestrians on the crowded sidewalks adjacent to Bloomingdale's New York flagship store may notice a certain fragrance in the air. It won't be their imagination: to promote Donna Karan's new perfume DKNY Delicious Night, the retailer will be spraying it into the air.
The effort is an extreme example of a broader marketing trend. After years of bombarding consumers with ads aimed at their eyes and their ears, advertisers are focusing more on the nose -- with ads that rely on smell to get attention. Spraying a fragrance into the air isn't practical for most advertisers. Instead, a growing array of companies -- including food and beverage makers and even TV networks -- are adopting a technique once reserved for perfume companies: sniff ads in magazines.
The Showtime pay-cable network drew attention for promoting its drama "Weeds," about a drug-dealing mother, by adding the scent of marijuana to strips in magazine ads. "We tried to do something that would surprise people," says Alan Cohen, managing director at Initiative, a unit of Interpublic Group, which created the "Weeds" campaign.
The scented ads aren't just in magazines. Last year, supermarket shoppers could get a whiff of Kraft Foods' new DiGiorno Garlic Bread Pizza by scratching a scent-laden card in stores. Avon, whose products are sold primarily door to door, now uses scent strips or scented pages for products from perfume to bubble bath in most of its product catalogs, distributed every two weeks in the U.S. One of its most recent features actress Jennifer Hudson on the cover, along with a sample of a new fragrance, Imari Seduction, encased beneath an adhesive strip.
"What scent does is build a distinctive brand connection to the consumer beyond the image and the written word," says Paul Caine, group publisher of Time Inc.'s People Group, which includes weekly title People. The magazine has seen dramatic growth in the number of scented ads in recent years, says Mr. Caine, including ads for packaged-goods companies and auto makers. Time Inc. is a unit of Time Warner.
The ads aren't cheap to produce; they generally cost four to eight times as much as a plain print magazine ad, says Louis Zafonte, executive director of Arcade Marketing, one of the major players in creating ads that emit different smells. It uses both the older scent strip as well as newer techniques. One, called LiquaTouch, involves adding fragrance to a tiny towelette on the advertisement that lets consumers try the fragrance on their skin.
The extra cost is worth it, says Avon, which uses Arcade to make scent strips in its catalogs. "We can regularly see the high return on investment," says Lily DeStefano, executive director of Avon's U.S. fragrances. The beauty company, based in New York, uses scented spots on its pages or fragrance strips for new and longstanding products because it translates to stronger sales for both and helps attract new customers, Ms. DeStefano says.
Still, the technique requires logistical planning to avoid one fragrance's aroma mixing with another. "It is a bit of a challenge because we don't want to compromise the quality of the scent," Ms. DeStefano says. "We just examine the brochure and place the scent pages strategically throughout so they don't clash."
Beauty companies, not surprisingly, still dominate the market for scent ads. Arcade says the beauty sector account for more than half its business. Competition for shoppers' attention has become intense in the fragrance market amid record numbers of new product introductions over the past few years.The extra competition makes sampling a crucial tool in luring buyers, Arcade says.
"In 2006, there were more fragrance launches than in the 1970s and 1980s combined," says Karen Grant, an analyst with research firm NPD.
That is good news for beauty magazines such as Allure, which says it is seeing an increase in the number of ads using scent-laden technology. Allure, a Condé Nast title, is ramping up for the two biggest fragrance sampling issues of the year -- November and December. More than half of all fragrance sales happen during the holiday season, Allure publisher Nancy Berger Cardone says. A recent survey of Allure's readers found that some 86% immediately open and try scent strips in the magazine, and 72% said they bought a fragrance based on trying a scent strip in the magazine, Ms. Cardone says.
Not everyone likes the strips. Helping make marketers more receptive to paying up for scented ads are improvements in technology that reduce the risk of dousing a reader with an unwanted scent.
"Now you can only smell it when you take action, by opening it," Ms. Cardone says. "That helps companies feel more comfortable."
Stephanie Kang and Ellen Byron, The Wall Street Journal. October 8, 2007
Copyright © 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.