Steak Smell from a Billboard

Discussion
Jun 07, 2010
Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

Bloom grocery stores, part of Food Lion, recently unveiled one
of the nation’s first scented billboards. Accompanied by a gigantic depiction
of a fork piercing a piece of meat, the sign in Mooresville, NC, pumps the
smell of sizzling steak to passing drivers along River Highway.

The scent, described
as a mix of black pepper and charcoal, promotes the supermarket’s new Sheffield & Sons’
Angus beef, according to The Charlotte Observer.
Formulated by ScentAir of Charlotte, NC, the scent is strongest during rush
hours, 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and then again from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. A high-powered
fan at the bottom of the billboard spreads the aroma by blowing air over cartridges
loaded with fragrance oil.

"It smells like grilled meat with a nice pepper rub on it," said
ScentAir marketing director Murray Dameron.

The Observer article noted
that many businesses use scents to create ambiance. ScentAir itself has provided
fragrance-delivery systems for hotel lobbies, casino gambling floors and retail
stores. Outside, it made Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida smell
like oranges for the 2008 World Series. But Bloom represents its first roadside
effort.

Indeed, outdoor scent-based marketing is extremely rare. The most famous
instance came in San Francisco in 2006, when California’s milk promotion board
installed strips that gave bus shelters the smell of fresh chocolate chip cookies.
While drawing wide press, the installations were quickly taken down after complaints
from people with asthma or allergies, as well as moral concerns over whether
the odors were only teasing poor or homeless people. The milk board said the
smells were safe at the time.

ScentAir likewise said the fragrances used in
Mooresville are safe and Bloom hadn’t received any complaints by the time the
article ran. But that’s possibly because it hasn’t worked as hoped. Designed
to drive the scents 30 to 50 feet away, scents were tough to perceive outside
of 15 feet, according to the article.

Jeff Golimowski, spokesman for the Outdoor
Advertising Association of America, agreed that weather and wind patterns represent
challenges to outdoor scent marketing. But he noted that scent marketing overall
has been growing slowly since it’s tough to measure its ROI.

On the positive
side, Mr. Golimoski noted that more so than other senses, scents evoke strong
memories. And while the San Francisco experiment showed they can be negative,
they can also be positive.

"It’s another way that out-of-home advertising is adapting to new technologies," Mr.
Golimowski said. "You see digital billboards, Bluetooth-enabled bus shelters,
mobile phone apps. Something like this that engages all of the consumer’s senses,
and really evokes a sensation and memory, is another very interesting step."

Discussion Questions: What do you think of the potential of outdoor scent
marketing? What do you think of scent as a marketing tool overall?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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21 Comments on "Steak Smell from a Billboard"


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David Livingston
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

Everyone knows the sizzle sells the steak. When I drive by the Nestle Chocolate factory, I always pull into the parking lot and roll down the window. It just makes good “scents.” My restaurant owner buddy pumps out the smell of cooked bacon and butter into nearby crowded parking lot. It works.

David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

Scented billboards are a great idea until there will be too many of them to contradict one another. Once the highway starts to smell like steak, perfume, coconut cream pie, fried chicken, fresh flowers, and French fries all at once, I think we will beg for the good ole days again when billboards left it all to our imaginations!

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 11 months ago

I tend to agree with David Livingston. Good “scents” so make for lots of cents. But what might happen if garlic, onion, or unsavory odors would permeate the local skies?

Steve Montgomery
Guest
10 years 11 months ago
As the article points out scent is capable of evoking powerful memories. When I drive into downtown Chicago, I pass a well-known coffee roaster’s facility and the aroma is great and certainly makes me think of having a cup of coffee (my children say if coffee tasted as good as it smelled, they’d drink it). However, as the article points out, there are several obstacles for this to become a mainstay of outdoor advertising. In order to be effective it has to reach the occupants of the passing vehicles. Wind, rain, and other weather-related factors can stop it from doing so. I am sure the humidity can also influence its effectiveness. Closed windows (air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter) can lessen its impact as does distance. All that being said, if you can get the scent to the occupants of the car, there is no question it will stir recollection. The question then remains: will smelling a steak drive me to buy a steak from the ad’s sponsor or from my… Read more »
Justin Time
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

Driving by the Tasty Kake bakery or the McCormick spices plant are really “smell good” moments for most drivers in the Mid-Atlantic.

Yeah, there definitely can be advantages to smellboards. How about some sound sizzle to go along with the smells?

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
10 years 11 months ago

This reminds me of Emeril Lagasse’s “smellavision” comments during his cooking show. Great idea, just not sure how practical it is. The challenge with this idea is you have very little control over the results. If the weather conditions are not just right your effect is lost.

The other issue with this idea really catching on is what happens when you have competing scented billboards?

Ian Percy
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

Can our society get any more invasive? This is advertising’s version of second-hand smoke. And you thought airport security was bad! Maybe a diet company billboard could have robot arms that pinch people’s belly fat. How about a pharmaceutical one that sends out ultra sound waves that give the passerby an immediate reading of their bone density? Oh…and keep your dogs tied up or you can find them hanging out at the billboard. Give me a break!

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
10 years 11 months ago

This is an interesting topic. Who isn’t attracted by the wonderful aromas coming out of a bakery or candy factory? Or turned off by the odors from meat packing plants or oil refineries. Who can resist the wonderful aroma of bacon frying or the smell of freshly opened or ground coffee? The enticing aroma of your neighbor’s backyard grill makes your mouth water and etc.

A negative would be for the people down wind that would have to smell these fragrances on a continuing basis. Even good smells can become annoying when they are endless. And the next logical assault on our senses would be sound from these billboards. Where does it end?

I personally don’t see this as having any lasting impact, but most likely an interesting experiment. If I’m wrong, feel free to remind me of this at will in the future.

Dan Desmarais
Guest
Dan Desmarais
10 years 11 months ago

A good story teller always gets you to remember the scents of your youth. Now just make it a moving screen billboard showing the steak being flipped over with the fire below….

The only challenge will be brand recognition.

Meredith Eriksen
Guest
Meredith Eriksen
10 years 11 months ago

Hey, I love a good steak, but how is this going to affect vegetarians, some of whom will be repulsed? A huge group? No–but seriously, is Bloom willing to alienate them?

You can look away from a billboard. Does the sound of an advertisement annoy you? Roll up the window, turn up your radio and the sound is gone. But a smell….

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

Ahh…the sizzle effect! It works every time I drive past a donut store, a bakery, and even other local establishments challenging my waist line. But a billboard? I am not sure of the long-term success because of distance from the highway, wind direction and expense. But I do believe in the effect of the aroma on the brain. Now I know what I want for dinner tonight. See, it works even without the billboard.

Liz Crawford
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

Pumping the scent to–Drivers?!? I understand if the scent is targeted to pedestrians, but I can’t imagine that people driving by are going to smell it at all. Or if they catch a whiff, whether they will associate it with the billboard.

Engaging other senses in ads is great, but the circumstances must be taken into account when delivering stimulation.

Kai Clarke
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

Great concept, but not a realistic product. This is a solution looking for a problem. There is no way that a billboard which produces scent will be smelled and noticed by a passing car at 55 MPH, and have their message read (and remembered), all at the same time. Add to this the difficulty in getting any scent into a car’s passenger compartment (most cars now have charcoal air filters just to minimize this specific problem) and you can see where things simply will not work.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

“Designed to drive the scents 30 to 50 feet away, scents were tough to perceive outside of 15 feet, according to the article.”

Nice try fellas, but looks like it’s back to the bill…er, drawing board.

Harald Vogt
Guest
Harald Vogt
10 years 11 months ago

Guess we won’t have Ian speak at our SCENTworld conference then… 😉 Interesting to see that most of the comments are positive or at least along the “what harm can it do?” lines. Advertising (and marketing) to a large degree is entertainment and what’s wrong with targeting the sense of smell while doing so? As for the vegetarians, have you ever seen a supermarket eliminate the meat case just to attract them as shoppers?

Following its tracks through cyberspace, the PR value of this billboard is astronomical both for Bloom and ScentAir. Nevertheless, it should be up to the consumer/customer to decide if she wants to be exposed to a scent. In a more constricted environment (like a store) it would take some more consideration than doing it outside where the faint presence obviously has saved Bloom from the more militant adversaries of everything scented–of which there are quite a few.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
10 years 11 months ago

If the aroma from a scent marketing machine wafts across the road and nobody smells it, is it worth the effort? Thankfully, outdoor scent marketing is rare. If it did become popular, the likely mixture of several competing aromas from nearby signage may not prove too appetizing to consumers or brands. I’d like Bloom’s application more if it were done on a smaller, more targeted scale–perhaps in the parking lot of selected stores, maybe at a handful of lifestyle centers or even in selected areas at a stadium.

And I have to wonder whether an old-fashioned sampling program might work much better, especially if hot, free samples were distributed off grills set up at subway stations, parks and stadiums. I’m not totally opposed to outdoor scent marketing, but Bloom’s effort hinges mostly on novelty and makes me wonder, “where’s the beef?”

Mark Burr
Guest
10 years 11 months ago
It seems silly, invasive, and ridiculi (that’s Scanner’s version of plural for ridiculous!). In Michigan, restaurants just went totally non-smoking. In Detroit, workers were advised to not wear anything scented to avoid lawsuits. Yet, we want to push scents out now for marketing purposes in the open air? Sure, driving by the local restaurant–Burger King comes to mind–the scent is in the air. However, that’s the scent of real food and it’s coming from the restaurant itself. In the supermarket I grew up in, the smell of fresh bread, garlic bread, cookies, cakes and donuts permeated from the bakery. Did that help sales? Sure. But pumping it from a billboard? To borrow the line from Mr. Percy–give me a break! Why? I have no idea, but it reminds me of being asked what flavor of air freshener I would like at the car wash. Every time I ask for ‘new car’. Never does it smell like a new car but it seems better than peppermint. I can’t imagine a scent coming from a billboard will… Read more »
Herb Sorensen
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

The problem here is that this billboard is invading space that it does not own, and that is not inherent to its existence. It’s basically olfactory pollution, and unacceptable. Some forms of olfactory pollution (the coffee roaster) are more acceptable than others (pig farms.) But those are at least inherent to the businesses–and subject to zoning regulations.

This is a dead-end idea, going nowhere significant, anywhere, anytime. And it is NOT comparable to an in-store bakery or other privately owned real estate, where the matter of the smell is strictly between the owner and his patrons.

Tony Orlando
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

Holy cow!!! Al Gore will put a stop to this environmental disaster….

Seriously, do something inside the store where the smell can be captured. Outside??? I don’t think so.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
10 years 11 months ago

How much is too much? Probably billboard scents fit in that category. Does the aroma of the steak make one want to shop at Bloom or just want to shop and eat a steak anywhere?

I agree that money would be better spent with the aroma in the store, along with easy recipes and ingredients all in one location for a quick cookout or dinner at home.

John Crossman
Guest
John Crossman
10 years 10 months ago

While Homer Simpson would love this idea, I think it is too much. Many people are sensitive to smell and this could backfire and hurt as much as it would help.

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