Howe School Seminar

Thursday, December 6, 2012 ( 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm )

Location: BC310

The Cool Scent of Power: Effects of Ambient Scent on Consumer Behavior

Adriana Madzharov, Ph.D. candidate , Baruch College, the City University of New York



Sensory marketing or employing sensory-stimulating techniques in order to fully engage consumers' senses and enhance the consumption experience, has received growing interest from both practitioners and consumer researchers. According to industry managers, one area in particular that holds wide and unexplored opportunities is scent marketing, or emitting ambient scents in the service environment. Recent advances in scent technologies have enabled marketers to successfully engineer scents in the production process. Market research indicates that scent marketing carries much commercial promise and is receiving a rapid investment increase (from $80 million in 2006 to projected $500 by 2017). Despite practitioners' evolving interest in scents, consumer research on the topic has been very limited. Scent research in consumer behavior is still silent on how ambient scents affect main marketing variables such as product choice, preference, and purchase behavior.

In the present work, I contribute to furthering our understanding of ambient scents by providing an in-depth exploration of how semantically related scent categories affect consumer behavior. Extant research from psychophysics and psychology has established that certain scents can be categorized on the temperature dimension as some scents are perceived as warm (e.g., cinnamon, vanilla) while others are perceived as cold (e.g., peppermint, eucalyptus). In the present research, I develop and test a model in which scents that differ on the temperature dimension produce a spatial bias in social density perceptions, which ultimately leads to power-compensatory consumption behavior. Across four experiments and one field study, I demonstrate that a warm (vs. cold) ambient scent leads to perceptions of greater number of people present and greater physical proximity between people. Importantly, I demonstrate that in a warm (vs. cold) scent and perceptually more socially dense environment, people exhibit a desire for more choice, greater willingness-to-pay for high-status products, and increased purchases of luxury brands.

This research is the first to demonstrate that sensory stimulation from ambient scents can bias spatial perceptions of social density thus contributing to both streams of research on sensory marketing and spatial perception. In addition, I extend research on scent by demonstrating effects of ambient scents on actual choice and purchase behavior. The present findings also have wide managerial implications relevant to retail and service settings where scent technologies are widely applied. The present research can provide practitioners with strategic guidance and understanding of how scent technologies can help them meet specific goals in particular shopping environments and situations.



Adriana Madzharov is a doctoral candidate in Business (Marketing) at the City University of New York. She holds a Master of Philosophy degree in Marketing from the City University of New York and an M.B.A. degree with concentration in Marketing Management from St. John’s University, New York.