Do You Smell That?

How to Use Scent Design to Help your Brand Pass the Sniff Test

The talented Tracy Pepe is a scent designer, perfumer, inventor, and author who specializes in scenting for brands and commercial spaces. 

Tracy has been scenting spaces for over 20 years and has worked with clients such as Loblaw Brands, RAW Design, Coty Canada, George P. Johnson, and Church & Dwight. Tracy came into the office to talk to us about scent design and to give our noses some samples. Lots of the smells had a very nostalgic feel and brought back many emotions and memories. 

Fonts, Colours… Aroma? Why Does Smell Bolster Brands?

  • Scent is a cue for certain products
  • 90% of brands don’t know what their brand smells like
  • We tend to be overstimulated by visuals — smart smells can overpower that
  • Scent is strong because it bypasses the other 4 senses

coffee scent branding

Raw Materials & Cultural Connections

Not only are smells tied to memories, they’re also associated with culture. That means, people across the world construct and perceive smells differently.

Tide [Laundry Detergent] in the States [smells] nothing like Tide in England. Scent has a cultural identification.
Tracy Pepe
  1. Cedar

    Canadians are pretty familiar with Cedar. (You can probably almost smell a picture of it!) It’s an incredible raw material; it’s wood, and it’s a base note. It has a lot of associations, like the outdoors or cooking.

    However, the cues of scent don’t always cross borders. Cedar is a very Canadian smell, but many Australians might be unfamiliar.

  2. Cocoa

    A lot of people have connections to this one. Some of us were transported to a winter wonderland complete with PJs, a crackling fire, and hot chocolate.

    However, the smell of cocoa does not translate the same way in Hawaii, for example, as it does in Canada. If you say ‘Chocolate’ — What kind of chocolate? White, dark or milk? Is it Godiva? All of these scents have slightly different stories.

  3. Natural vs. Synthetic 

    Scent is reminiscent not only of places, but periods. Tracy says, “Some generations believe natural is better for them and hate synthetics; however, natural is known to be old and stuffy.”

    WARNING: You must be really careful with the sensorial elements, especially smells relating to food. One of the best companies at understanding the psychology of scent is Procter & Gamble. They will change their scents depending on where their product is being sold.

The Building Blocks of Smells: Composing Custom Blends

Smells consist of top + middle + base notes, which is similar to how music is built. The chord changes as you let it linger, just as sound would change through the progression of music.

Custom blends are not singular notes. There is a story. Tracy says, “Certain smells will last a long time and certain smells will flash off. Blue Tanzi would linger; Mandarine wouldn’t last very long.”

Smell is Everywhere 

Everything, even garbage bags, has a scent — even if it isn’t added. Hair colour companies mask the scent because the bad smell would prevent consumers from using the product.

If you were doing a scent campaign using paper, the paper has to be non-coated and raw. There are only 2 companies that have the patent to scent ink so that it doesn’t change. You can also use polymer beads to scent spaces, similar to how certain laundry detergents use microbes to release scent through movement or with time.

Smelly Fact

  • Cinnabon’s signature scent and that familiar Subway smell are the result of the restaurants’ air vents being turned around to waft their product into the world
  • Las Vegas has been scented for 25 years. Hotels and stores contract companies to manage their scent systems 
  • Ford hired top perfumers to capture the scent in space and recreate it for their vehicles 
  • The #1 most identifiable scent in the States is Vanilla
  • Earth tones are an inspiration for sporting goods stores; they tie into branding and the color green with notes that signify freshness, lime, black spruce, and cedar
  • Scent is a trigger for creativity and imagination; next time you need an idea, stimulate your sense of smell

Olfactory branding may be an invisible aspect of how your customers, employees and stakeholders relate to your organization, but it’s arguably the most influential one. Signature smells can elicit instant, powerful emotional connections that play a big role in how your brand is perceived. Your brand’s essence could be very much lingering in your scented environments.

The Author

Trevor Landon
View Profile