Scent designers work with specific overdosing

The sense of smell works emotionally, uncontrollably, almost “bestially”. In the opinion of the scent creators, perfume can unconsciously stir up certain things. Pheromone perfumes, fragrance fences, room scenting … the scent trend is booming. Do we need aromas to create room air?

Scent acts as a medium between man and object. This applies to rooms, as well as for Eau de Toilette. Scent informs people about contents, or possible dangers, and leads it to an emotional decision: affection or antipathy. The aim of the scent designers is to produce affection, but at least attention, among the biggest possible number of consumers.

The memory of scent digs itself into the brain

The Monell Institute in Philadelphia, USA deals exclusively with the effects of the smell and taste senses on humans. There is very little scientific research in Europe in this field, and up to now too few investigations to show the connection between the awareness of scent and subsequent altered behaviour as proven. But one thing is certain: everyone reacts differently to fragrances. As opposed to auditive and visual detection, smell, coupled with emotional experiences, is stored in the long-term memory. We retain the memory of scent for a long time (“That smells just like grandma’s!”). However, these significant associations connected with smell – compared to other senses – are acquired slower. Scent events coupled with rooms do not work at short notice, but have to have time for events connected with them.

Twenty years ago, scent research was still no-man’s land. “Smell was not socially acceptable”, says Prof. Gerd Kobal of the Pharmacological Institute at Erlangen University. Today, on the other hand, there is a lively interest in it: “This curiosity probably stems from the Para, the abnormal, which is said of the scent world. Aroma therapies are en vogue, and the belief is that mankind’s secrets can be solved through experiments with scents.”

The Caribbean for travel agencies. Coffee for petrol stations.

In the meantime, different companies work with scent marketing, i.e. “mood and environ-aromas”. Their purpose: stimulation, relaxation, and to further attention and form trust. Voitino from Gräflingen designs the Caribbean pillar for travel agencies and the alleged sales-promoting scent mixture “sea breeze” for boutiques and men’s outfitters. The fragrance producer Haarmann & Reimer offers a coffee-like scent for petrol stations. Takasago invented its “Erotica” especially for nightclubs. Interior architects are having Analysis in Frankfurt consult about which fragrance suits the room design.

Does scent marketing have anything to do with feeling good?

Diotima von Kempski, Düsseldorf, who has been looking at the olfactive and thermal cosiness in rooms for decades, argues against the tendency towards excessive dosing, even against scent marketing on the whole. It is not just a question of scent, but also of humidity and temperature. According to von Kempski, the idea of scenting for marketing purposes is merely “to attract attention and assert yourself against others.” It has nothing to do with a wellbeing effect. She herself experimented in her olfactive beginnings with scent lamps and scent jewellery, but very quickly determined that the feeling of smell is always something individual, something intimate. Scenting means excessive dosing – which is fine for some, but thoroughly repulses others: “That demonstrates the absurdity of scent marketing.” That is why she regards scenting in stores as totally contra-productive.

After all, processed water is not lemonade

She is going in quite different directions with her air vitalizing system called Diotimat. The appliance is connected to the air conditioning like a bypass, and prepares the air in the room through very small doses of pure natural fragrance essences. The result: nature-like fresh air. Everyone finds this pleasant. It always gives off a positive atmosphere. Von Kempski prepares the air just as water is prepared: “After all, we don’t want to make lemonade.” In a word: if someone feels that the room air is scented, von Kempski is of the opinion that the aromacologist has not done his job. But the fresh air that is spread in buildings through the Diotimats, is by no way always the same. In a fitness studio it can have a more stimulating effect, in hotel bars a more relaxing one. The olfactive substances that are used work independent of mood and have to adapt themselves to people’s expectations. Most of them want something more snug in a hotel room and extra-fresh in the health centre.

The nose also wants to believe in what can be seen

Diotima von Kempski is primarily concerned with a harmonisation of all senses. What is optically and acoustically only becomes consistent when the nose can also believe it. Simple example: goods in musty-smelling department stores, no matter how beautifully decorated, will most probably be seen to be “cheap”. According to von Kempski, architects as eye-people had not yet internalised this connection. “It’s not enough to clean the air; it also has to be considered fresh. And it’s definitely not enough to turn down the air conditioning thermostat to give off fresh air.”

We rely mostly on eye and ear

Seeing and hearing are remote senses. Tasting, smelling, touching are those feelings that bring us very closely into contact with something else. In the past, physicians could tell sicknesses from their smell. Over the last decades, the local senses have taken a back seat – today we prefer to rely on eye and ear. Life quality always expresses itself as the overall experience of all senses. It is therefore in no way enough just to add the matching fragrance to detergent or a room. The automobile industry, which is being scented against stinking exhalations from new parts, has recognised that scenting the interior is not enough to convey a relaxed atmosphere. The car has to appear in its entirety to be a mobile home, with organically shaped contours, with comfort, right through to a feeling of home – for example through a small, integrated flower vase.

Only when all senses play together does mankind’s readiness to communicate towards objects work. Comprehensive room designs are also necessary. For if scent and colour contradict each other for example, you tend rather to produce irritation. The senses interact like an orchestra that plays well together. All too often, the scent statement is contrary to the interior furnishings. The effect is inevitable. The aim of persuading consumers to remain or to purchase exclusively by overdosed “subliminal” scent harmony can be simply described as unsuccessful.


Sources and secondary information:; Monell Chemical Senses Center; Examination paper Silke Bochat (FH Köln, FB Design), 1999; Diotima von Kempski Internet website