Why Do Multisensory Interactions and Their Applications in Marketing Matter?
Odor Semantics and Visual Cues
There are emerging studies on how visual cues can change our sense of smell and taste and vice versa. Beilen et al. in 2011 studied the complex interactions of visual cues on flavor perception of odorized sweet beverages. Their results revealed that exposure to food images and odors with sweet perceptions (e.g., strawberry and caramel) increases the sweet perception of sucrose solutions. In another study by Lehmann et al. (2021), they showed the effect of sensory cues on taste perception is a sequential effect. Based on their studies, encountering a visual signal before (vs. after) an olfactory cue results in more positive outcomes such as higher taste perception, volume consumed, product recommendation and choice. Sakai et al. (2005) released a short review on studies investigating the effect of visual cues on our sense of smell, and one of their highlighted studies belongs to Morrot et al. (2001), in which they showed that red-colored white wine was perceived as red wine by 54 tasters.
Another interesting proof of the effect of visual cues on humans’ sense of smell and taste is reality cooking shows like Hell’s Kitchen, in which highly trained chefs cannot differentiate between different spices, such as garlic vs. parsley when they are blindfolded. There are also emerging studies looking at the effect of olfactory stimulation on visual perception. Tsushima et al. (2021) reported in a visual task—the speed of a moving dot—that participants exposed to a lemon smell perceived slower motion, while those exposed to vanilla perceived faster motion for the moving dot.
Engaging All Five Senses
The marketing field benefits most from studies investigating human sensory interactions. Considering the proven interactions between our senses, targeting more than one sense is necessary to increase the chance of a successful advertisement. This will bring us to sensory marketing, involving all our five senses rather than only visual and auditory, like traditional billboards. Regarding the sense of smell, there is a belief among scientists that images associated with a smell are more memorable and have a long-lasting impact on humans’ memory. Also, studies have shown that scent can improve brand messaging by 19% (Starch Advertising Research) and increase sales by 10% (University of St Gallen). There are many successful examples of scent marketing all over the world.
In 2017, MacDonald’s took advantage of multi-sensory marketing to advertise their new chocolate chip hotcake products. They built billboards with a great visual image of the hotcakes and added a push bottom to release the scent of freshly baked chocolate cake. The combination of visual cues and the scent positively affected human taste buds and made them carve those cookies.
One of the most interesting examples of using multi-sensory marketing has been done by the real estate company MIXC. In their 2017 exhibition in Shanghai, they featured their new HOPSCA (Hotel, Office, Park, Shopping, Convention, Apartment) by showcasing a custom build color house that had three windows, each showing a different scene—an ocean view, a meadow, and a forest, each with its recognizable smell and sound. Combining all three different senses provided an out-of-this-world experience for their customers and brought so much positive feedback for their company.
The Road Ahead
Our sensory modalities are complex systems that are not fully understood. There are a lot of unknowns about different aspects of the olfactory system (e.g., receptors’ interactions with each other, receptors’ ligands, olfactory mapping, and so on) that need to be addressed before claiming to fully understand how our sense of smell is interacting with our visual or taste modalities. Naturally, there is still a long way to fully understand how our senses interact and affect our perception of the world. However, an increasing number of studies are emerging on this subject, and among many other fields, marketing can benefit significantly from the results of these studies.