July 24th, 2008

What's That Smell in the Movie Theater? It's an Ad

By Emma Hall
Advertising Age

After Successful Trial in Germany, Cinescent Bringing Scented-Ad Technology to U.K.

Popcorn, and perhaps body odor, are the scents usually associated with a trip to the movies. But in a European cinema, you might just smell bread, chocolate or whatever else an advertiser wants you to.

A company called Cinescent is giving marketers the chance to pump out the scent of their brands in German theaters, where it first tested the technology for Beiersdorf’s Nivea. For the test, a specially made 60-second spot showed a typical sunny beach scene, with people lying around on deck chairs or sunbathing on towels while waves crashed and seagulls cried in the background.

As people wondered what the ad was for, the scent of Nivea sun cream permeated the cinema, and a Nivea logo appeared on screen along with the words “Nivea. The scent of summer.”

The results were significant: Cinema exit polls showed a 515% rise in recall for the Nivea ad compared with moviegoers who saw the spot without the scent. The same ad, when combined with only a subliminal whiff of scent, scored a 25% lift.

Taking it to U.K.
Mike Hope-Milne, enterprise director at Pearl & Dean, which sells cinema advertising, is so impressed by the German results that he is bringing the technology to the U.K. “We are talking to a handful of clients, including sun cream, bread, coffee, perfume, air fresheners and chocolate manufacturers. It is most cost-effective when working with scent-based products that have the scent oils already to hand,” he said.

One of the advertisers lined up is a car manufacturer that wants to promote its cabriolet version by evoking the smell of fresh country air and newly cut grass.

The technique was dubbed “endorphin branding” by C. Russell Brumfield, author of “Whiff!” and a keynote speaker at the Scent World Conference and Expo in New York earlier this month. He claims scents provide a dynamic psychological and emotional trigger that can be invaluable to brands.

May attract new advertisers
Mr. Hope-Milne is also hoping to drum up new business with the technology, noting that three of the companies he’s talking to have never advertised in cinemas before. “It’s encouraging people to reappraise the medium,” he said. He said the Cinescent idea works best when advertising a product that appeals to a broad audience. “Perfume is probably a bit of a risk and is better off using sampling.”

Cinescent works by pumping smells through the cinema’s air-conditioning system to distribute a scent that covers other odors without being overpowering. Using this method, much finer fragrance molecules reach the audience, minimizing the allergy and irritation problems encountered by previous attempts, when smells were dispensed via boxes located among the audience.

Cinemas still doing well
Despite a recent drop in U.K. cinema audiences (down 19% in May to 12.7 million), the overall trend is upward. The U.K. Film Council has just released figures showing U.K. box-office receipts have increased 50% in the last decade, with July 2007 the biggest single month of cinema-going in Britain for almost 40 years.

Mr. Hope-Milne is expecting a good summer in the U.K. with “The Dark Knight” just opening and a new James Bond movie due next month.

“In times of recession,” he said, “we usually do OK for audiences because the cinema is a cost-effective night out. But we are entering into a tough ad market so we do need to try new things and find new ways to appeal to advertisers.”

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