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Christmas scents

It's that time of year - Christmas music plays in the background of malls and stores and decorations hang from every possible place.
© Zarija Lesjak – 123RF.com

There's no doubt that Christmas music has an element of nostalgia to it, triggering the hippocampus with memories of our youth and Christmases of the past.

In addition to music, another important sensory association with Christmas is olfaction. Recall the smell of wrapping paper when opening your presents? Or how about the scent of Christmas lunch cooking in the background? We've already seen in previous research how powerful the use of olfaction is in retail environments, as well as how strong scent is as a sensory stimulus, particularly with regard to triggering memory recall. In fact, the use of scents is quite established and common place in the retail space. Of course, so is the use of auditory stimuli (at this time of year, it's Christmas music). That said; little research has been conducted on the combined effects of auditory and olfactory stimuli in a retail environment.

However, Spangenberg et al conducted a study where they looked specifically at the interactive effects of ambient Christmas scents and Christmas music in retail environments. Their study consisted of a 2x2 experiment setup:


The research found that a Christmas scent in the presence of Christmas music had a positive influence on store evaluations. However, a Christmas scent in the absence of Christmas music actually had a negative effect on the store evaluations.

The implications of these research findings are not just important for the use of Christmas scents and music. Rather, they point to the importance of ensuring associative coherence when considering auditory and olfactory stimuli in a retail environment. If there is no coherence between the scents and sounds that a retailer is employing, consumer perception can be adversely impacted. But getting the balance right can lead to significantly better perceptions regarding the retail environment.

Fortunately, with neuromarketing and behavioural research becoming more commonplace, businesses now have the opportunity to test such effects. So, whip out the Christmas tunes, spray some 'apple cinnamon' in the air, as that scent in particular seems to be strongly associated with Christmas, and have a festive Christmas season.
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About Brandon Bester

Brandon is a Director at Neural Sense - a South African Neuromarketing research company. Hailing from the technology industry, Brandon has a keen interest in technology. He also has a passion for understanding consumer behaviour.
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