Advertisers and Advertising Agencies alike speak about visual, written, verbal and non-verbal communication brand guidelines and its strict adherence across offices and locations. Though they seldom talk about how the Brand should smell; especially if the Brand Personality is a living thing. Most experts lay a lot of emphasis on look, touch, feel and usage of the Brand; while simply ignoring the fact that the scent that the Brand carries too, can swing the purchase decision in its favour or even more, pledge loyalty.
Smell, good or bad, has a strong association with people, animals, places, stores, food, apparels, and perfumes or other scented products, seasons, instances, etc.
These smells have memories; sometimes so strong that they stay with you for eternity and whenever you remember them, the scene comes alive. They are often a source of nostalgia. For example - Maa ka pallu has that smell of warmth and security that you can still feel it with your eyes closed.
I had this cashmere shawl which I would hug while sleeping till standard 10th! By that time it was literally in shreds but I did still cling on to it, whether it was home or away. Apart from the feel, the stronger reason to have this shawl by my side was its smell. To be honest, I would literally fight with my Mom if, once-in-a-while, she would put that shawl for washing. ‘Goddamn it, you spoilt the entire smell of the shawl, which had taken weeks or sometimes months of my perspiration to develop in to a fine sleeping mate.’
I can still smell the Brut After-Shave that my Dad applied; it only meant that he was ready for office and the time was 10 am. When I was young, my relatives from the US would get us those already-worn garments. "Beta, it has just been worn twice or thrice. It is as good as new. It will look very good on you." Though, my Father hated this and donated these to the lesser-privileged the moment they left. But, what I liked about those clothes was the nice spring breeze smell that originated out of them. There was something about their bags; the moment they opened it, the entire room would get filled with amazing firangi fragrance. Even the Wrigley's that they brought had that touch of sweet and spicy scent that I am yet to find in the Wrigley's bought in India.
There are a lot of Gujju homes in Para Vistar (Western Suburbs) of Mumbai which typically smell of this combination of a chandan incense stick aroma seamlessly infused with the smell of Chai ka Masala dominated by Tulsi and Mint Leaves. These homes are very inviting and comfy, while at the same time there have been homes that I would never ever like to go because they smell like toe jam.
Same is the case with people. There are people whom you would want to hug simply because they smell awesome. That smell of Johnson's Baby Powder coming from infants and babies makes you feel like cuddling them forever (Apart from the fact how cute they are). But then there are dime-a-dozen who can scare the shit out of you, the moment they raise their arms. Trust me; you do not want a close friend who smells this awful. Unfortunately, I do have one and it is a complete nightmare being with him.
Food and drinks has a very strong and relevant connection with smell. Good chefs and food experts can tell by smelling a dish being prepared if the spices are in the right order or not. Basmati Rice, Asafoetida (Hing), Blended Masalas... have long been sold on the richness of their smell.
Many restaurants, tapris and khao gallis emanate a typical smell akin to the cuisine they are serving. In fact in the US and UK there have been lawsuits filed against few Indian restaurants for spreading the curry smell in the neighbourhood! Almost all the roadside highway ‘Hotels’ have this signature stench in their washrooms. Similarly, you do not have to keep your eyes open to know where you are if you are passing through Ankleshwar, Gujarat on NH8.
A lot of people are identified by the perfume or the talcum powder they wear. Classic Polo (Green) by Ralph Lauren or Cool Water by Davidoff or Azzaro Pour Homme or Fahrenheit by Christian Dior or Grey Flannel by Geoffrey Beene or the ever popular Brut After-Shave... they all take me back to a certain nostalgia, instances, dates, outings and are still my favourites. I normally apply Classic Polo to work. It alerts my staff the moment I step in to the office. One of my colleague once mentioned that the combination of Classic Polo and Cigarette smoke on me was mind blowing. Bizarre it may sound, but that combination, it seems, is truly sensual.
For me, fear too has a smell associated with it. Riots erupted across the Country following the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6th of December, 1992. I distinctly remember that early morning of 8th December, 1992 when we were trying to sneak out of Surat to get back to our home in Gandhinagar. Those days the only way out of Surat to reach the National Highway was through Varachha Road, the worst riot-affected area in entire India after Dadar in Mumbai. It still sends chills down my spine recalling that stench of rotting human flesh lying on the road and blood tainted body parts on carts, that awful charcoal-like stink of burning human flesh as we were passing by at 4 am in the morning. That smell has that eerie correlation of this ghastly and barbaric inhuman act and has remained with me till date.
All seasons have their characteristic whiff and you do not need to open your eyes to feel it. That damp earthy smell that precedes the first rain, that wonderful, evocative odour of new-mown grass just after the rain, that fresh mild peppery air that fills the Indian autumn, that crisp smell of wood fire during the winters, that fragrance of flowers during the spring and that smell of heated earth during summers; all very unmistakable and strong associations that remain with us.
Undoubtedly smell has a very strong correlation with people, places, food, instances, seasons... So why should it not have with the Brands, especially brands which are in direct connect with the end-consumers? In developed countries and many a multi-national brands, this brand sensory is well defined and put into practice. However most of the Indian Brands fail to even recognise 'smell' as a component of brand personality and as a result there is no mention of it even in the most detailed of the Brand Manuals.
A consistent smell that builds subtle brand equity is a must if you are in the hospitality or wellness industry or if you are in a service industry where customers walk in to your establishments. It is also essential for chain of restaurants, fast food joints, cafes and hang-out joints, airlines, malls, electronics stores, electrical and home appliances stores, apparel and accessories stores, jewellery stores, mobile stores, gymnasiums...
Smell also plays a very important part in the corporate offices and can directly impact the mood of the employees and in-turn their productivity. Pleasant smell is as important as proper ventilation, temperature, sunlight, cleanliness, etc. Won't name a conglomerate, but the moment you enter their reception area, which is thronged by at least two dozen people at any given point of time, there is this distinct smell of phenyl that has entrenched its air-conditioning system. It puts you off the very moment you enter and you do not look forward to being there at all. And then there are SMEs and MSMEs who have this board flashed on their entry, 'Please remove your shoes outside'. This only ensures that the inside is filled with the smell of toe jam and you do not want to spend an extra minute in that premise than necessary.
It's time that at least the Brands, who are big enough and are multilocational, should hire a consultant to bridge this missing link in the Brand personality. Pleasing scent of a brand can really add to the intangible Brand Equity.