What is that… that smell???

Milkbus_1Before I traveled the wine road for a living, I commuted to cubicleland on a city bus.  Ask anyone who has spent a few minutes in a bus stop to describe its scent and you’re unlikely to hear the word "appetizing".  More likely, they’d describe the lingering personal hygiene limitations of its unfortunate nighttime dewllers – those without access to showers.  Or bathrooms.

CookiesInto this scenario insert this week’s landmark "scent ads" by the California Milk Board and their ad agency, Goodby Silverstein.  For details, take a moment and see the video clip of the news reel (yes, there is a commercial first, sorry).  Short on time?  Here’s a synopsis – the "Got Milk?" folks combined their famous campaign with scent strips that made selected bus stops smell like, get this, freshly baked CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES! 

Wow.

The Milk Board leveraged a fact long known by perfume marketers – when the brain senses an evocative scent it fires up an entire neural network created during the original experience(s), including feelings and sensory memories, not just stories.  Psychologists use the word gestalt to describe this sort of experience (see "Aroma Hooey" for similar thoughts).

For example, I am still inclined to shiver on the rare instances when the distinctive scent of a kerosene heater recalls cold mornings in 1960’s England when a shivering, toddler-version of me shed his pajamas in front of such a device.  And the echo of 1970’s calluses still ache whenever I smell burning leaves – the permanent trigger stored in some crease of my cranium which evokes the hours spent raking the lawns along Elmwood Drive.  In those days, the delicious scent of smoldering leaves hung in the air from late October through Thanksgiving.

So let me ask you – are such memories more evocative than that of our first great wine experience?  I doubt it.  Every wine lover has a fond memory of that first wine that grabbed our very soul and made us say "now this is something special!"  So let’s agree that a wine’s scent memory is evocative, and…

…Given the massive low-end dominance of the huge multi-nationals, seeking ever-new ways to make their latest cutesy label differentiate the latest version of their plonk, how long will it be until we see scent strips dispensed on a wine display?

Maybe my predictions for the wine industry should have included this.  My guess is sometime very soon, most likely in 2007, as the cost of micro-encapsulation is a fraction of what it was years ago, when the perfume industry started invading our magazines with scent strips. 

Please use our comment box to weigh in with your thoughts on this – would it be helpful to go into a store, stare at thousands of bottles, and pull a scent strip from one?  Would you trust the manufactured scent to represent the true scent of the wine?  Do tell.

Scent Marketing, An Epilogue:
Sadly, the "Got Milk?" folks underestimated their San Franciso market.  It was just announced that the $300,000 bus stop campaign, scheduled to run throughout December, was pulled after just 36 hours.  Turns out the scent was making the aforementioned nighttime denizens cruelly hungry (with no opportunity for satiation), and also had adverse affects on those with allergies.  Perhaps these promoters forgot to heed the old chestnut "It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!"

Swclogogs3x3_16 Cheers,
Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant
Toll-Free 866-746-7293

From Our Quote Bank:
"I love to smell flowers in the dark," she said. "You get hold of their soul then."
~ Lucy Maud Montgomery, "Anne’s House of Dreams"

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