Food marketers can maximise the impact of their ads by including pictures and words that help consumers mentally link a product with a relevant scent, according to a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Yamen Koubaa (EM Normandie Business School, Métis Lab) and Amira Eleuch (an independent marketing consultant) investigated how “olfactory-congruent” images, words and smells – that is, pictures, terms and odours associated with a given food item – shape consumer perceptions.

“Food makers and retailers should have always a food visual referent, whether olfactory congruent or not, on food packaging or in a food advertisement,” they argued in one finding from their research.

“The visual referent facilitates cognitive processing by helping consumers generate more food-related thoughts, which leads to a better taste perception.”

And they further recommended using “olfactory-congruent visual referents”, such as a vanilla flower or cinnamon roll, as well as words like “vanilla” and “cinnamon”, on packaging and in food outlets.

“Visual inputs influence taste perception and, subsequently, the desire to eat through the olfactory mental imagery they evoke in the consumer’s mind,” Koubaa and Eleuch wrote.

These findings were outlined in a paper entitled, Multimodal perceptual processing of cues in food ads: Do you smell what you see? Visual-induced olfactory imagery and its effects on taste perception and food consumption.

And the underlying study involved 45 consumers – 20 male and 25 female, with an average age of 38.8 years old – who were assigned to four experiments, and asked questions about a cookie at the end of each.

The first experiment exposed consumers to an ad said to promote the product they were evaluating, and that featured the word “vanilla” and a photo of the vanilla flower.

Participants were asked to imagine the cookie’s smell and flavour, then ate a slice of cookie and rated its perceived sweetness, before being allowed to eat as many cookies as they wanted (as was the case in each round of the study).

A second experiment followed a similar methodology to the first, except the ad did not contain a reference to vanilla or its related flower.

The control experiment saw participants eat the cookies without any advertising stimulation. And a fourth experiment exposed consumers to the ambient scent of vanillin before they ate and rated the cookie.

And, the authors explained: “The effect on perceived sweetness was higher for the olfactory-image group than for the ambient olfactory group. The opposite effect appeared for the desire to eat.”

While using visuals is a more cost-effective approach than using scents, they continued: “Whenever possible, advertisers should use both techniques of food advertisement simultaneously.”

Sourced from WARC