Making Choices While Smelling, Tasting, and Listening

Jan 21, 2014, 10:07 ET from American Marketing Association

CHICAGO, Jan. 21, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Suppose while shopping for a perfume at a retail store, a consumer samples a series of perfumes using scent strips provided by the store. Would this consumer's final choice of perfume be influenced by the colors of the scent strips or the smells of the sampled perfumes? Furthermore, would the order in which the perfumes are sampled influence choice? That is, when the sampled perfumes have similar versus dissimilar smells (or when the scent strips have similar/dissimilar colors), would a consumer be more likely to buy the perfume that she sampled sequentially first or last? At a broader level, this article examines the effects of similarity/dissimilarity of sensory cues (e.g., smell, color, taste, sound) and the sequential order of sampling sensory-rich experiential products (e.g., fragrances, chocolates, flavored beverages, music) on choice.


Marketers often manipulate sensory inputs of their products to influence the overall product usage experience. For example, although Unilever sells both Axe deodorant and Dove deodorant, the sound made by Axe spray is engineered to be different from the sound made by Dove spray. Similarly, fragrance companies have different colored sampling test strips and different colored (and/or smelling) fragrances to influence consumer experiences. Moreover, marketers often facilitate sampling opportunities for consumers before they make purchase decisions. The increased availability of sampling opportunities is largely driven by companies that consider providing free samples a more powerful and cheaper alternative to traditional forms of advertising. As a result, consumers often get to sample a sequence of products, which might have similar versus dissimilar sensory cues.

The article, which appears in the January 2014 issue of the American Marketing Association's Journal of Marketing, finds that the order sequence in which products are sampled and the level of (dis)similarity in the sensory cues of the sampled items influence product choices. When the products have sensory similarity, consumers tend to prefer the item sampled first. In contrast, when sampling products with sensory dissimilarity, consumers tend to prefer the item sampled last.

According to the authors (Biswas, Labrecque, Lehmann, and Markos), sensory cues related to products and the order sequence in which the products are sampled can be a very strong influencer of product choices.

In essence, this research shows that marketers can subliminally influence consumer choices by making subtle changes to a product's scent, color, sounds, or taste and the order sequence in which products are sampled.

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SOURCE American Marketing Association