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Sensory Marketing: How Marketers Bond with Us Through Our 5 Senses

You may have learned about our five senses way back in elementary school, probably on the same day your teacher covered addition or subtraction with double digits (seriously, look back at your notes, you’ll see it there). Although this is useful information, did you know that there’s an industry capitalizing on the use of as many senses as possible to attract you?

No, it’s not dating websites. Today’s marketers are trying to use as many senses as possible in order to get consumers to buy and remember their products. The more senses that are used, the higher rate of retention that will occur.

How do they do that, exactly? I’m glad you asked (otherwise this would be a short blog post).

For each sense, there’s a way marketers can create a stronger bond with us and their product…


Focus groups help marketers figure out what consumers want to see

This is what we initially see about the product right away. It’s quite possibly the easiest sense to market with, because we automatically review the product without putting any conscious thought into it. What color or size is it? What’s the styling like? Is there something that will please or could it offend customers?

All of these questions have to be addressed before it even hits the shelves for us to buy. In order to make sure the packaging of a product is the right one to attract customers, marketers will hold small focus groups with several different options they’re considering. The option that receives the best feedback is the winner and therefore the one that will hit store shelves.


If you’ve been in the mall anytime within the past decade, chances are you’re familiar with scent marketing. Think of walking near a Hollister or Abercrombie & Fitch- how close are you before you start to smell their familiar scent wafting towards you? Sixty feet? Thirty feet? Ten feet? When you catch a whiff, you immediately associate that smell with that store even without having to walk in front of it, let alone go inside. This is exactly what marketers hope for since smell is an extremely strong sense for us to create associations and memories with.

Smells like summer time to me!

Some stores take this idea bit further and will have individual departments within their store each have a unique scent to them. Vanilla may be wafting around the women’s department, baby powder in the children’s section, or even the smell of suntan lotion piped into the swimsuit section! This is all in the name of building a stronger connection and getting you to spend more of your money, without realizing it. When you smell suntan lotion your brain is remembering all the years you spent at the beach as a kid, and hey — this suit is on sale and you’ve wanted to go to the beach again, too! And just like that, you bought a swimsuit you didn’t necessarily need (and may not want when you get home later).


Taste is quite possibly the hardest sense for companies to market to, because it’s difficult to get the point across if the product isn’t edible! Unless USPS starts selling edible packing tape or flavored shipping boxes, don’t count on this one becoming a prevalent marketing technique quite yet. It’s best for food products and supermarket samples.


Going into a store and hearing the latest pop song probably isn’t news to your ears (HA- see what I did there?). Music is played to either relax or get customers up and moving around, and consequently buying more merchandise. Stores such as Kohl’s and JCPenney play different music depending on the department in the store. For example, what’s playing in the juniors department is going to be vastly different than what’s playing in the home décor section.

Slim chance she’s listening to the ‘Glenn Miller Orchestra’, which her dad loves

Although this type of marketing may seem like a crazy mish-mash of music in the aisles, it’s a great way for your brand to make a deeper connection with a customer’s taste and interests. The songs teenage girls are listening to aren’t going to be the same ones professional men are going to enjoy hearing, so give people the opportunity to hear exactly what they want when they’re in your place shopping.


“If only I could have touched this sweater before buying, I would’ve known it was itchy!”

The more we’re sure about a product and feel more comfortable with it, the more willing we are to buy it, right? Well, imagine if you couldn’t touch a sweater before you bought it. You wouldn’t know if it was soft and cozy-feeling or if it was stiff and scratchy. So would you buy it? Chances are you wouldn’t and would walk right past it and out the door. When companies are designing new product offerings, it’s vital they understand and recognize how it will feel to customers.

Marketers want you to remember their brand and their product over their competitors, and while this may seem easy, there’s actually a lot of work that goes into it. Months and months of market research is done on a product before it hits the shelves for customers to buy. Each of these senses is taken into account to ensure we remember it and will buy it again in the future.

Is one sense stronger than another one when companies are trying to attract you? What about sensory marketing do you detest? Sound off below!

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Bubba is the Quality Logo Products mascot. He may have started out as "just a stress ball," but he's come a long way since the company's launch in 2003. Bubba has been immortalized in numerous vector artwork designs for internal and external promotions, and you can see him change outfits on the Quality Logo Products homepage whenever a holiday rolls around. Oh, and he thinks pants are for the birds. You can connect with Bubba on


  1. Cybernetic SAM

    I think the sensory marketing that I hate the most is hearing. Which is strange because I love music etc… but nothing enrages me like obnoxious sounds in advertisements. Even if it is music or an actor I like, if it is obnoxious or inappropriate (i.e. a Nick Drake song in a VW commercial, is nothing sacred!?!?) it completely turns me off to what ever they are marketing. I especially I hate radio commercials where the spokes person is speaking so erratically and obnoxiously it feels like they are punching you in the ears! ugh!

    • amy

      I can’t stand radio commericals that repeat their tagline seventy billion times in the 30-sec spot. We get it, you’re having an awesome deal on furniture this weekend. Congrats.

      Value-City furniture for the longest time had the most annoying TV ad on, they blasted some song at the beginning and end, but also sped it up so it really got your attention. Ugh, it was so obnoxious! I changed the channel every time it came on, I always assume the networks notice this and make a change. I at least hope that’s what happens, haha!

  2. Jen

    I don’t necessarily like the smell sensory marketing technique, it’s probably the most annoying. It’s a really smart tactic, because when I walk past a Cinnabon in the mall my mouth waters. But when I walk past Hollister, I need a gas mask. Cool post Amy!

    P.S. is that Gabe writing on the white board? It kinda looks like him, lol 😛

    • amy

      I’m such a sucker for ‘smell’, it’s ridiculous. It will (and does) get me every time! Some smells are definitely better than others though, Cinnabon and Mrs. Fields are good and I have no complaints about walking past those in the mall. Hollister and Abercrombie? Not so much. I avoid those wings in the mall all together.

      ** I didn’t even realize it when I picked that pictured, but you’re right! It totally looks like Gabe, hahahaha! Good eye, Jen!

  3. Mandy Kilinskis

    1. That girl is crazy. Glenn Miller Orchestra is good.

    2. Taste is definitely important when shopping for food. Sometimes things look weird, but if you get the chance to taste it, you realize how absolutely delicious it is. I’m also a sucker for sight. I buy a lot of things based on how cool they look. For example, I bought some Luxury Lane Soap simply because it looks awesome. But I have no regrets – I’m excited to use it. 🙂

    • Amy Swanson

      1. I knew I loved working you, Mandy. Anyone who knows, let alone likes Glenn Miller is a-okay in my book 🙂

      2. There’s a lot of ethnic grocery stores by my house that have packages in different languages. That makes me leery to buy, but if I’m offered a chance to sample it more often times than not I’ll end up putting in my cart and buying it. Like you said, “sometimes things look weird, but if you get the chance to taste it, you realize how absolutely delicious it is”.

      Despite the fact that I wrote a blog about how annoying it is that companies “pink and shrink” their products for women to buy, if something is pink I will buy it 98% of time over another color. Sight is a very crucial sense and one that marketers can do a lot with.

      Ps. Your soap does in fact look awesome (and smells amazing too!) 🙂

  4. Rachel

    Regarding your point about hearing, music can be a great way to market to customers. But it can be awful, too. A place I used to work at played horribly annoying music all day — really generic “pop” music that wasn’t by any artists anyone had ever heard of. Anyway, as employees we just had to deal with it, but I remember once a frustrated customer came to the front registers and said something like, “I can’t find what I want! And your music sucks, I can’t stand it anymore!” and then she left. Unfortunately, this did not convince corporate to get us better music … But yeah, hearing can have a big effect on a customer’s mood and purchasing decisions.

    Great post, Amy! 🙂

    • Amy Swanson

      Hahaha, that’s a hilarious story, Rachel! I’m envious of that women speaking her mind about the music. I’ve been in a few stores that I wish I would’ve said something about their background music. I think I’m too picky about my music so if I actually find a store that plays music I like, I’ll go back to them all the time.

      Thanks so much for the awesome comment, Rachel!

  5. Jeff Porretto

    What about those store that blast music so loud you can’t even talk to the person next to you? I can’t remember the exact store, but I remember one in the mall getting the cops called on it because it was so excessively loud that everyone hated them. How exactly is that supposed to help you succeed as a company??

    • Amy Swanson

      There’s a line between being effective and obnoxious with using sound to attract customers, and clearly that store zoomed past it! That’s ridiculous that the cops had to be called in because of something so trivial.

      Bed Bath & Beyond always gets me to stay in there longer than I need to because they play music that I typically listen to in the car, so I’ll hang out and shop around longer than if they were playing rap or polka music.

  6. Jill Tooley

    I generally despise the music playing in stores (Kohl’s is the worst offender) because it tends to be soft-rock garbage from 10 years ago. In fact, I block out most store music because I’m so accustomed to ignoring annoying commercials! But smell-vertising? That gets me EVERY TIME. I can’t resist a free food sample if the scent wafts my way, and I’m incapable of passing a perfume counter without trying a few of the scents. “They” say that smell can unleash all sorts of memories if triggered correctly, so it makes sense why it’d be so powerful!

    Very informative, Amy. Now I know more marketing tactics to watch for 😉

    • Amy Swanson

      Smell always gets me too, Jill! It’s one of the most effective ones because it is so connected to our memories (I’ll refrain from going into detail, but there’s a science behind it).

      I have a love/hate relationship with Costco and Sam’s because of their free food samples. I love them on the weeknights because I can sample them and not get run over by some soccer mom with a cart. Weekends though, I hate them. All I want to do is run in and run out for two things and instead I’m slowly shuffling behind someone who has to stop at each and every one. Ugh! You want to see me lose my patience? Take me to one of these stores on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

      Glad you liked the post, thanks for the comment! 😀

  7. Candice J.

    I’ve never paid much attention to sensory marketing but I would probably say the one I’m most prone to is smell. If the smell of something or the area around it is unpleasant I won’t buy it no matter how much I previously wanted it. I have a very sensitive sense of smell so the minute its turned off so am I. In the same boat if I smell something delightful it can totally alter my shopping plan to now include things that weren’t previously budgeted for simply because it smells good. Or maybe I’m just an impulse shopper. Great post, Amy!

    • Amy Swanson

      Thanks, Candice! I’m with you on the sensitive sense of smell thing too! If anything is too powerful I immediately get a headache and as a direct result, I get extremely cranky and irritable. At that point, there’s nothing a marketer could do to make me buy their product, haha!

  8. Roxanne Krause

    for me, smell is definately a winner. As Jill mentioned, smell triggers memories or emotions, and majority of the time always a positive memory or emotion. We have a company based here in South Africa that is entirely dedicated to scent marketing, ive seen them at various expo’s and often used their products for my own clients marketing – a very power tool indeed.

    • Amy Swanson

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Roxanne!

      That’s so cool that you’ve actually used this type of marketing! Have you found it to be as effective as you hoped for? Reading the comments here, it seems like consumers would take notice, but do people buy as a result?

      Some interesting food for thought!

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