Scent sells products – but clever use of images amplifies the effect

By our African Marketing Confederation News Team | 2024

Despite rising recognition of the power of scent, product branding often does not include an image evoking an appealing smell.

Scented products with relevant images on their packaging and branding, such as flowers or fruit, are more attractive to potential customers and score better in product evaluations, new research confirms.

Photo by doTERRA International, LLC from Pexels


Such images, the researchers conclude, are particularly effective if manufacturers and marketers choose pictures that are more likely to stimulate a stronger sense of the imagined smell – for example, cut lemons rather than whole lemons. This suggests that as well as seducing our eyes, the images are stimulating our sense of smell. 

The study, published online in the International Journal of Research in Marketing, could provide manufacturers and marketers with a cost-effective way of promoting the ever-expanding range of scented products. 

Despite rising recognition of the power of scent, the researchers say that much product branding does not include an image evoking an appealing smell. Sometimes, companies even choose images that actually reduce consumer appeal. 

Examples of the latter include objects whose unpleasant odours the product is designed to disguise, such as old running shoes or ash trays. The new study confirms the negative impact of such images. 

As part of the study, participants were asked to choose between two fruit-scented hand wash products with and without pictures of the relevant fruit on packaging or advertising. As expected, the presence of an image was more important in determining consumer choice than whether the hand wash was scented with clementines or pears. 

A rose by any other name… 

Similarly, when considering products described as having a floral scent, images of yellow roses scored better with participants than sunflowers, almost certainly because the latter does not have a strong smell. 

“Marketers and their clients have sought for some time to infuse packaging, and even print advertisements, with appropriate pleasant fragrances. There is strong evidence that appealing scents can boost sales in shops,” says research paper co-author Zachary Estes, Professor of Marketing at the City University of London. 

“However, for individual products that process is costly and not always particularly practical. It also has limited impact; research suggests that just 11% of customers sniff fragranced magazine ads, for example. 

“Our study suggests there is a less expensive route to the olfactory senses – one where people’s imaginations almost do the marketer’s work.  

“It is no surprise that attractive images of flowers or fruit with pleasant smells will attract customers if they are relevant to the product. However, that impact can be magnified by using specific images (such as cut lemons rather than whole lemons) that intensify stimulation of the olfactory senses as well.” 

The research paper is co-authored by Varun Sharma, Assistant Teaching Professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar. 

You can find out more about the study here. 

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    Dr Kin Kariisa

    Group CEO - Next Media

    Dr. Kin Kariisa is an extraordinary force at the helm of Next Media Services, a conglomerate encompassing NBS TV, Nile Post, Sanyuka TV, Next Radio, Salam TV, Next Communication, Next Productions, and an array of other influential enterprises. His dynamic role as Chief Executive Officer exemplifies his unwavering commitment to shaping media, business, and community landscapes.
    With an esteemed academic journey, Dr. Kariisa’s accolades include an Honorary PhD in exemplary community service from the United Graduate College inTexas, an MBA from United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya, a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from Huazong University in China, and a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics from Makerere University.
    Dr. Kariisa pursued PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. As a dynamic educator, he has shared his expertise as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at both Makerere University and Radboud University.

    Dr Kin did his PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radbond University in Nigmegen, Netherlands. He previously served as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and Radbond University in Netherlands.

    Dr Kin did his postgraduate courses in Strategic Business Management, Strategic Leadership Communication and Strategies for Leading Successful Change Initiatives at Harvard University, Boston USA.

    • Other current and previous roles played by Dr Kin Kariisa:
    • Lecturer of e-Government and Information Security to graduate students at Makerere University, Kampala and Radbond University in the Netherlands
    • Director of Eco Bank Uganda Limited, one of the largest banks in Africa
    • Chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, an umbrella industry association for all Television, Radio and online broadcasters in Uganda.
    • Chairman of Board of Directors of Nile Hotel International, that owns the leading hotel in Uganda, Kampala Serena Hotel.
    • Chairman of Board of Directors of Soliton Telmec Uganda, the leading telecom company in Optic fibre business managing over 80% of optic fibre in Uganda.