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Ad is in the Air

By Pere Navalles

Quantitative study on aroma as advertising

Can aroma in an environment make a difference to an advertised brand, the recall of the brand, and product identification compared with its competitors? A recent study by Dr. Pere Navalles, director of the master program of Neuromarketing at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, provides scientific concepts in favor of the use of scent in advertising and more effective communication.


A quantitative study was performed among 400 healthy subjects who are frequent users of the Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC) and the TRAM public transport company in Barcelona and its metropolitan area, Catalonia, Spain. These two carriers usually allow advertising on their vehicles, both outside and inside. In collaboration with MAIN, the company with exclusive advertising rights for FGC and TRAM, TIC-TAC advertising was promoted to incorporate scented advertising on the commuter trains. The aromas of mint and strawberry TIC TAC candies were utilized in order to measure the effect on attention and memory of travelers to advertising.

A liquid aroma was sprayed directly on the air conditioner filter of a train carriage. Each diffusion of aroma lasted for seven minutes, working through diffuser devices acting alternately and located in the air-conditioning units of three of the four carriages of an FGC train, leaving one car unscented. During the first 15-day period 450 g of mint aroma was applied, and in the second 15-day period 400 g of strawberry aroma. Afterwards, a control group was created without utilizing aromas. The same carriages were used on both FGC and TRAM for this control group, and the same advertising was displayed outside and inside the carriages. The interviews were conducted during the day from nine in the morning until eight in the evening. A group of three pollsters conducted the survey among various travelers on the train during their journeys. Subjects were randomly selected between the ages of 18 to 65 years.

The study into the effectiveness of a scent in the environment, as an element of advertising, aimed to compare the effectiveness of advertising in the carriages when the air inside is scented with carriages with unscented air. The parameters studied were: measuring attention to advertising (is smell noticed yes / no), memory (is the advert remembered yes / no) and identification (is the product identified yes / no, and is the brand identified yes / no).


In all cases, 20% higher levels of attention were recorded for all age groups compared with the levels of attention for the same advertising in an unscented environment. The results suggest that the advertising industry and the advertiser could benefit from the improved advertising effectiveness achieved by dispersing aroma through the air and by incorporating the aroma in their campaigns. In addition, certain media channels could consider incorporating aromas in the environment as a standard advertising service because, as we understand it, this could be factor that influences the choice of an advertiser when deciding between a mass media that offers this service or another that does not.

Other findings

  1. As the intensity increases, the percentage of people who perceive the aroma increases.

  2. In the experimental group, the percentage of people who perceived the smell is higher than in the control group, 73% in the experimental group and 56% in the control group.

  3. As the intensity of the aroma increases, the percentage of people reporting a pleasant smell increases.

  4. The percentage of people who remember the ad is higher, at approximately 80% when they have noticed the aroma, whether the aroma was identified or not.

  5. There is greater ad recall when the carriage or tram is crowded, 83% versus 64%.

  6. The percentage of people identifying the brand is higher when the smell is pleasant, 77% versus 60%.


The study was conducted during the normal use of transport services, the train has an operating schedule and this was adapted to the schedule. The control period was completed in a week, after the experimental period had finished. It is possible that a placebo effect is significant in the results because an unknown number of subjects interviewed in the control group may have previously been exposed to the aroma, or were maybe aware of the aroma campaign.

Contact: Dr. Pere Navalles

IP MARK num 831 nov 2016 page. 74-75

This article was originally published in the Neuromarketing Yearbook. Order your copy today