Steak Smell from a Billboard
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
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?