Sensory marketing

What does the future hold for sensory marketing?

by SIAL Paris

“Colours, sounds and textures can directly trigger gut reactions that have a positive effect on a consumer’s purchase probability.”
Back in 1973, Philip Kotler had already predicted the growth of sensory marketing. This professor at Northwestern University had rightly anticipated that marketing would one day become an adventure involving the five senses. Logically enough, the process was inaugurated in the food sector, a market entirely given over to tastes and flavours. From a very early age we create mental images for the foodstuffs we eat. It is during the first few years of our lives that we learn to place food into categories. In the same way, sensory stimuli exercise an influence on our patterns of food consumption. This does not mean, however, that the five senses tell the whole story. Consumers are increasingly sensitive to questions of nutritional value, to products’ proclaimed quality level and origins, etc. SIAL focuses on a phenomenon that has so far been essentially limited to Europe and North America.

“Conditioning our eating habits? ”: stimulating the senses to orientate consumer choice

On Tuesday 21 June, 2016 the traditional Benjamin Delessert Conference was dedicated to the subject of Sensory Marketing. This conference explored the factors influencing the question of how to combine sensory pleasure with the requirements of healthy eating dictated by rational criteria. It has been demonstrated that sensory marketing helps to create customer loyalty, to personalise brand identity and to exert real influence on consumers’ purchasing decisions. This is not a new concept: bakers have always relied on the smell of freshly-baked bread and specialist food shops have long understood the benefits of offering free tastings. An overview of the three big trends in the food sector.

The new generation of musical chefs

The influence of sound on our perception of food

Heston Blumenthal is a pioneer in this field. This chef at the Fat Duck, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Bray (U.K.), has offered since 2007 the now-famous “Sound of the Sea”, an MP3 player concealed in a shell to accompany the seafood platter with an original soundtrack. In Shanghai (China), the mysterious Ultraviolet restaurant goes even further, serving twenty dishes accompanied by 20 different songs and 20 ambient fragrances. It is also a standard ritual for diners to start their meal with a wafer of apple with wasabi, served in an incense-laden atmosphere and accompanied by AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells”.

Sensory marketing

Flavours to savour with a deep breath

Olfactory marketing continues to progress

Of all the five senses, it is probably Smell that receives most attention from the food sector. Industry professionals were quick to realise that a pleasant smell could immediately immerse the consumer in another world. To promote its sandwich loaves, the British brand Harry’s accompanied its billboard campaign with diffusers to emit the smell of hot bread. Snack manufacturers and fast food chains have also taken up olfactory marketing. Examples include the diffusers of the “marinated spicy chicken” odour in KFC restaurants and of the “barbecue” odour in McDonald’s outlets.

Depriving oneself of one sense to enhance the others

Dining in the dark is all the rage!

Since they can’t devour their dishes with their eyes, customers who dine in darkened restaurants seek the novel experience of (re-)discovering taste, touch and smell. In Boston (U.S.A.), Dining in the Dark has developed this concept by plunging its customers into total darkness. Guided by smell and (re-)discovering the art of “feeling” their food, customers are accompanied in this adventure by music and by the advice of a culinary guide. In Basel and Zurich (Switzerland), the Blindekuh Restaurants have also enchanted diners by combining sensory marketing and social action: the servers are all blind. Whether in London, Paris or Ottawa, more and more cities are witnessing a boom in restaurants of a totally new kind.

Sensory marketing is opening the way to a range of new experiences, particularly in the food sector. For David Gapp, the Quality Director at PPL Insight, this enthusiasm is only natural, as, after all: “Life itself is a multi-sensory experience.”