Show And Smell

(This was originally published February 8, 2012, on

The sensory approach to advertising is expanding.  Gone are the days when helmet-cam footage and the sound of smoking rubber have to bear the entire burden of pounding  the excitement of NASCAR into viewers’ skulls.  No longer will the fake, spray-painted turkey in the Jennie-O commercial have to convince viewers of its deliciousness and realness just on its Fotoshopped looks.  Smell-vertising has arrived and is already bringing product scents to the out-of-home industry.  Soon Smell-O-Vision will be in your living room, and before you know it, Terry Crews will be exploding through your wall to douse you in Old Spice POWER!

According to Creativity Online, McCain’s frozen pocket potato line has installed out-of-home advertisements that feature a fiberglass replica of a baked potato that heats up and emits baked potato-scented gas into the surrounding atmosphere.  Typically I would think that being bombarded with tuber-vapor would be unappealing and unappreciated.  However, the installations seem to be primarily at bus stops, making it more likely that this ad is only the second or third worst smelling thing to call the bus stop its home.

I was so taken aback by this idea that I had to look deeper into it.  Predictably, this is not a new idea, and has been done before.  If we can believe what blogger Joseph Giorgi says,then this grocery chain billboard in North Carolina secretes clouds of beef-scent around mealtimes.  This also seems like a weird and overwhelming scent to blast onto passers-by.  I loathe walking through the cologne section of department stores because of the gauntlet of trigger-happy salesclerks that line up to hose me down with eau de toilette, like I just stumbled into the worlds most noxious watergun fight.  I cringe to think that walking or driving down the street will soon be like this.  Only, with all the steak and potato fumes clinging to me, I’ll smell like I just left a Sizzler.  Where I rubbed my meal all over myself.

Quickly losing faith in humanity, I was excited when I discovered that someone had finally gotten this idea right.  The San Francisco Chronicle reported, in 2006, that about a half dozen bus shelters had been upgraded with advertisements that exuded the fragrance of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.  Finally, someone is using a smell that doesn’t punch me in the nostrils.  So who could be behind such a bright idea?  Pillsbury?  Nestle Tollhouse? Paula Deen?  Surprisingly enough, these ads were executed on behalf of the California Milk Processor Board.  I’m really keen on the fact that milk is selling itself in such a roundabout way, almost as if it recognizes its role as a supporting character.  Milk & cookies may be better friends than peanut butter & jelly, and even give man & dog a run for the money.  The connection is so ingrained yet marginally subliminal that there almost seems to be a Pavlovian response expected from the viewer/smeller.


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