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For years, marketing has relied only on the way brands look – from their advertising, the way they sit on shelves and the colour of the packaging. But brands are capitalising on emotional branding to create emotional connections with their customers by tapping into all five senses – often with surprising results.

Currently, over 90% of all brand communication focus on just sight; that means leaving less than a measly 10% appealing to sound, taste, touch and smell. But emotional connections are made with a combination of all five senses.

The smell of popcorn takes you to the cinema; a champagne cork popping brings an anticipatory whoop from a room; a sniff of freshly mown grass and it’s spring… It’s these types of multi-sensory touchpoints that allow brands to create a more powerful connection with their customers, who can ‘feel’ the brand on many different levels – often in a deeply emotional way.

It’s no surprise that in-store retail is playing with sound and scent, and that packaging experts in the US are toying with resins that have feel appeal, and inks that change colour or release a fragrance when rubbed.

Who’s doing what?

The first brand to famously introduce sensory elements to their brand was Singapore Airlines, who redefined the travel experience. They devised a signature scent that the crew wore and that they sprayed on their planes and the hot handtowels; the flight attendants’ make-up was in exactly the same shade the airline’s brand colours; and even the way they spoke to and served passengers came under scrutiny. It became a seamless brand experience, and copied widely by others.

Smell it

Emotional branding – For Play-Doh’s 50th anniversary they created a limited-edition fragrance of the distinguished odour for “highly-creative people, who seek a whimsical scent reminiscent of their childhood“

Smell is a hugely important memory trigger, with scientists estimating that 75% of our emotions are generated by what we smell – so it’s no surprise that perfume counters are placed by the front doors of department stores to waft out over the pavement and entice people in. A Yale study found that Juicy Fruit gum and Vicks VapoRub were among the most recognized scents for adults, along with a Crayola crayon, who considered their smell was such a fundamental element of their brand that they trademarked the smell. Likewise, Play-Doh has such powerful scent associations that the company released a special Play-Doh anniversary perfume to celebrate their 50th birthday. Burger King launched its own fragrance – called Flame and smelling like ‘the scent of seduction, with a hint of flame-broiled meat.’ Not everyone’s cup of Darjeeling, but it sold completely out within four days.

A few years ago, the Harrods Senses promotion pumped out uplifting fragrances at each entrance, scented the store guide that customers used as well as the till receipts that were slipped into bags of purchases to take home – releasing the same pleasing scent at different touchpoints of the customer journey.

Hear it

Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut advert plays on the fact that their Crunchy nut cornflakes are too irresistible and so crunchy that they can’t be eaten quietly even if you tried!

Sound is an equally important part of the mix. Car manufacturers started inserting dampeners in door cavities to give the door closing sound a more satisfactory clunk, and Harley Davidson tried to trademark the distinctive ‘potato-potato’ sound of their motorbikes, as sound equals quality. So much so that Kellogg’s have been testing the crunching of their cereals for years in a Danish sound lab, and found that a crunchier sound meant a bigger market share; Rice Crispies that don’t ‘snap, crackle and pop’ are considered stale, even though they may not be. Schweppes too used their unique gassy sound to advantage in their “Sch you know who” campaign, and British Airways has been using carefully chosen signature music that reflects its values of quality and excellence (sadly fading) in its advertising since the 1970s.

Interesting that different brands are using sound in different ways in their propositions. Turntable Kitchen in San Francisco is monthly curated food and music discovery experience that sends out recipes and hand-selected musical pairings that appeal to several different senses for a more enriching experience. And Ferran Adria, the world’s greatest chef at El Bulli restaurant in Spain, worked with a composer to introduce an entirely choreographed a 29-minute tasting menu; an orchestral explosion was mirrored in the explosion of an olive in the diner’s mouth. He also manipulates light, smell and sound in his restaurant to give customers a truly multi-sensory experience.

Touch it

Limited edition bottle design by Moschino – as the part of its “Tribute to Fashion” charity project, Coca Cola asked some of the best Italian designers to put their stamp on its limited edition bottles. Others include Donatella Versace, Angela Missoni, Alberto Ferreti, Consuelo Castiglioni and Etro.

Research by Instore Research in the US says that a customer that picks up a product in a store is 96% more likely to purchase it, so making customers want to touch your products is paramount. Gü have Touch a Toblerone bar, a KitKat or a box of Pringles with your eyes shut and you know exactly what it is; and the classic Coca Cola bottle was designed in 1915 so that if you smashed it, you would still know what it was – even when dressed in other clothes.

A recent memorable collaboration was between Kid Robot and Dunny, whose set of art toys to house your condiments demanded to be squeezed, while graphic designer Rachel Long’s multi-sensory food packaging features scratch and sniff elements plus a design that invites touch. Even luxury Parisian caviar purveyor Kaviari has launched a range of dinky colourful tins aimed at the travelling gourmand who wants a slurp of caviar on the go, elevating tinned fish to a fashion accessory with an unusual shape and raised logo and designs on the lid.

What else?

Proving there are always new ways to engage customer senses, Bompas & Parr created the walk-in Alcoholic Architecture cocktail bar in London’s Soho, allowing customers in protective suits to simply breathe in a mist of vaporised gin and tonic; Moët & Chandon took a different approach in their champagne bar in Macau, which replicated the experience of opening of a bottle of bubbly by using Interactive projections of bubbles on the walls, infusing the air with the smell of champagne and covering the bar in 18-carat gold foil.

Ralph Lauren’s spectacular 4D show in London’s Bond Street

Finally, the biggest multi-sensorial branding exercise to date is when Ralph Lauren changed the outside of their Bond Street store into a 4D canvas, and commissioned an 8-minute movie clip with full soundtrack to showcase their latest collection. A projected snakeskin belt tightened around the building and huge ties billowed down the front; their new fragrance was pumped into the street, and the front of the store seemed to slide away so you could see the interior. Finally, a virtual image of Ralph Lauren himself appeared at the window.

We’re all multi-sensory beings; if brands want to engage their consumers on deeper levels, it’s time to start exploring different sensory triggers.