By ANNE KADET
The folks who run the MRI unit at Florida Hospital Celebration Health are doing everything they can to make a body scan feel like a day at the beach. The changing rooms look like cabanas, beach sounds waft from the speaker system, and the imaging machine is disguised as a giant sand castle. The piece de resistance? The place is perfumed with Ocean Breeze, a scent meant to evoke a seaside vacation.
That's not the only use Florida Hospital makes of aroma. Facilities VP Tim Burrill says the waiting lounge on each of the children's hospital's three floors is scented to match a theme. The savannah floor, for instance, smells like grass. The pleasant odors reduce stress, says Burrill, and boost business. The children's hospital is booked solid, and last-minute cancellations at the MRI unit are down 50 percent.
So-called scent marketing, the practice of enhancing an environment and boosting a brand with evocative scents, is becoming as ubiquitous as piped-in Muzak. Perhaps we should call it Smellzak. The strategy was first adopted by hotels and retailers, including Westin, known for its White Tea scent, and Abercrombie & Fitch, which blasts its customers with Fierce, a scent that smells just like an underage male model with a freshly shaved chest. But now, the practice is spreading to doggie-day-care outfits, law firms, museums and airports. Richard Weening, CEO of Prolitec, a firm that provides ambient scenting to roughly 30,000 locations, including 50 Goodwill stores and a chain of 35 senior-care facilities, says business is growing 50 percent annually.
Anytime Fitness, the nation's largest coed fitness chain, recently introduced scent marketing in an effort to cultivate olfactory consistency and ensure that its facilities don't smell, well, too much like a gym. Brand coordinator Heather Rudolph says she asked provider ScentAir for an odor that was fresh, invigorating and neither masculine nor feminine. Choosing from 25 options culled from ScentAir's library of 2,000 odors, the gym settled on Inspire, a eucalyptus-mint fragrance. Franchisees say folks like what they smell; it helps sell memberships.
A strong scent can backfire, of course. When I stayed at TheHotel at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, I felt so overwhelmed by the spicy orange smell, I dreaded trips through the lobby, and swore I'd never return. (A spokesperson says the current scent, Lavender Ylang, gets "tremendously, overwhelmingly positive feedback from our guests.") Studies show that an incongruous scent can hurt sales. Still, in an age when you can do just about anything online, brick-and-mortar businesses are desperate to create a more compelling environment, and that means using scents.
But look on the bright side. Soon, you may be able to choose the smell of your own funeral. Service Corp., which owns 1,800 funeral homes and cemeteries, says it started using scent last year after research showed that women, who make 85 percent of funeral-arrangement decisions, are particularly responsive to good smells. You don't want to be too obvious when targeting women, says senior VP Phil Jacobs: "Scent is almost a covert way to do that." So far, funeral home directors choose from a long list of "fresh" scents, including Green Clover & Aloe. Still, there's no reason a client couldn't request a custom scent for a service. "If Mom was known for baking cookies, ScentAir has a baked-cookie scent!" says Jacobs. I'm feeling hungry already.