Connect: Behaviour - The rise of scentertainment

The effect of aroma has long been recognised, and now many brands are keen to add some olfactory seduction to their events.

Scent can conjure up a range of emotions and associations
Scent can conjure up a range of emotions and associations

Whether it's food creatives Bompas & Parr's Flavour Conductor for Johnnie Walker belching out scented chords as it's being played, or perfume-making events turning gin into wearable scent, the popularity of aromas in the design of events has never been stronger.

Offering a novel twist, scent is an under-explored, quirky medium that, used with originality, can help to generate buzz around an event. More than that, for audiences it enhances a feeling of immersion within a place or theme. As a sense, smell is famously powerful in helping an occasion stick in the mind. And, when so many of our experiences are now mediated by screens, there is something refreshingly analogue about aroma, even when delivered using the latest kit.

Scent events have changed dramatically since 2010: what began as themed perfume discovery nights, the equivalent of a wine tasting for clients in the fragrance industry, has evolved, to the extent that brands beyond the beauty world increasingly want to animate their offer through scent.

This desire to create sociable experiences has included hosting masterclasses on perfume history for Ruinart's sommelier programme; scent tours for French drinks brand Teisseire; 'edible perfume' creation evenings; and producing an armchair journey into modern Rome through sequenced scents and sounds for the House of Peroni.

As consumers became inquisitive about flavour through the growth of cocktail or coffee culture, that interest broadened to include the sense of smell. And ever more nuanced event propositions are required to meet that growing sophistication.

Looking back at history

Although these experiences are new, there are some incredibly bold examples of brand activation in the 19th and 20th centuries that may inspire today's event planners.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Eugene Rimmel founded one of the most fashionable perfumeries in London, which is still going strong today. Rimmel knew how to get the word out using an arsenal of scented collateral at events. He would partner with theatres to provide fragranced programmes. He would sell scented Valentine's cards, almanacs and calendars. And, most impressively, he developed a range of fountains that spurted out perfumed water, which were hired out at events and parties to promote his range.

In the first half of the 20th century, brand activation took to the skies. In 1908, the John Gosnell Company promoted its Cherry Blossom scent using giant perfume bottle-shaped hot-air balloons, which hovered over cities, dispersing promotional material overboard. Famously, in post-war 1940s Paris, couture house Carven generated buzz for its Ma Griffe perfume by tying samples to little parachutes dropped over the city. My favourite example comes from the two American entrepreneurs behind the then best-selling Angelique perfume brand who, in the 1940s and 50s, staged a number of aerial tricks. These included perfume 'bombs' thrown from planes manned by pin-ups, taxis emitting puffs of fragrance, and even a scented snow descending over parts of Connecticut.

Performance was another hot area for scent. Early silent cinema experimented with fragrance diffusion even before musical accompaniment was included, and performers - whether in the Ballets Russe or English music hall entertainment - were figureheads for renowned perfumes promoted alongside a live show.

In the 1930s, Lentheric created La Danse des Parfums, a series of scented concerts in which each piece of music was inspired by a scent, which turned into a sell-out national tour and slot on NBC radio. More recent examples have revisited this trend: Lush's scent off-shoot Gorilla Perfume has been running Scented Songs, an in-store events series based on collaborations with musicians, who play tracks that are accompanied by pairings of Gorilla's scents. Meanwhile, Penhaligons, as a partner of London Fashion Week, will fragrance the catwalks of British designers.

In the past, it was, perhaps obviously, perfume entrepreneurs who saw potential in extending their scented products into experience. Now, drinks and car brands are natural bedfellows for the medium. What will be interesting to see is how far this goes: will scent remain the novelty option, or will it overcome its sometimes faltering progress and realise its creative potential?

Recent examples

The new BMW Seven Series will offer customers a luxury add-on of one of four exclusive fragrances diffused within their cars. To launch the offer, BMW commissioned TRO to host VIP events where the venues, including Goodwood and Gleneagles, were suffused with the scents as guests arrived, using technology from The Aroma Company.

In January this year, Glade launched a pop-up gallery in New York that encouraged customers to explore its new household scents in emotion-themed rooms, such as 'Relax' and 'Anticipation'. They could also wander through a virtual (and scented) field of flowers using Oculus Rift.

To promote its fragrance offer and new Salon de Parfums, Harrods recently produced a range of interventions, from a bus stop emitting floral scents to a wall of scented paper flowers, as well as a garden at the Chelsea Flower Show that invited visitors to explore how perfume is made, and which linked back to products in-store.

When transitioning Office 365 from a desktop to mobile product, Microsoft hired agency Nock to create a promotional installation divided into four zones, each of which animated a different environment, from 'outdoors' to 'on the move'. Scent, alongside sound design, was key to curating these distinct spaces and attracting people to the stand.

Lizzie Ostrom (also known as Odette Toilette) is a scent expert, events producer and author of the forthcoming Perfume: A Century of Scents, which will be published by Hutchinson.

Scent around the world from T2, by Gemma Hopkins, founder, Design In Scent

To celebrate Heathrow's new Terminal 2 being fully operational, we were asked to devise an olfactory experience that would create excitement, stir memories of travelling and support the message of better journeys at the airport.

Our Scent Globe took passengers on a sensory journey around the world before they had even stepped inside a plane. Our perfumers created five fragrances that brought to life five iconic destinations only reached from Terminal 2.

Using pioneering technology, we linked a diffusion machine within the globe to a touchscreen built into the information stand. Travellers could interact with the screen, touching icons to release each scent for short intervals.

More: Colour theory: why colour could make or break your brand

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