In 1960, a Swiss “osmologist” named Hans Laube teamed up with movie producer Mike Todd Jr. for a bizarre marketing scheme dubbed “Smell-O-Vision,” in which more than 30 scents were pumped into theaters during the lone screenings of the Z movie Scent of Mystery.
To say that Smell-O-Vision did not work out would be an understatement of colossal proportions.
The smells were released with a distracting hissing sound, and audience members in the balcony received the scents out of sequence from the events in the film. Because the scents were relatively subtle, audience members would sniff loudly to try to catch the smell. These bugs were mostly corrected after a few showings, but poor word of mouth and negative reviews of the film signaled the death of Smell-O-Vision.
Despite the crash and burn of Scent of Mystery, Smell-O-Vision as an actual marketing technique is still far more prevalent than consumers might think. Don’t believe us? Why did your hotel just finish baking cookies the last time you checked in? Did your hotel room smell of lavender? What about that clothing store at the mall with hip young people—does the scent emanating from that particular place remind you of anything? It’s all part of a multi-million-dollar industry called ambient scenting, and one of the industry’s giants is about to turn heads with its new IoT-powered scenting platform.
Prolitec is an ambient scenting company based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They have executive offices in Seattle and a worldwide sales presence on top of it all. Their new innovation is called ScenXus, and it aims to combine a highly sophisticated scenting technology with a smart IoT platform to monitor and control the performance quality of commercial scenting devices. The system is the big brother to the company’s Aera line of products, which integrates scenting into in much the same way as devices like Sonos, Nest and other IoT devices interact within a smart home.
While the new commercial technology is developing, where Prolitec’s bread is buttered is in the home market, where their Aera line of home scenting products is one of the most popular products in the Internet of Things (IoT) market. The pricing is different for each system, however, in that ScenXus clients pay a monthly subscription fee based on the complexity and individuality of their service, while Aera users simply purchase scenting cartridges based on their individual tastes.
Aera is a system meant to complement existing IoT technology like Google Home or Alexa, according to Prolitec CEO Richard Weening. The Aera devices are already controllable with smart devices like Alexaand will eventually be connectible with all home IoT devices.
“From a home point of view, you have control of the temperature with Nest said. “What it is at its most basic is the use of scent in commercial settings for some marketing-related reason. The reasons range from making a place smell better to associating a particular scent with a brand, selling a product, or any other situation where scent can add value to the customer experience.”
It may sound strange, but Weening says that smell can be one of the most powerful factors that influences customers.
“Scent is a very powerful reminder of memory,” he said. “It’s more powerful than sound. It’s processed in the limbic region of the brain where emotion is processed. All of us humans prefer spaces that smell better to places that smell bad. It’s simple, and it’s not really weird science. It’s just common sense.”
Here’s how it works: Prolitec takes a liquid fragrance—which can be made up of as many as 20 different ingredients—and convert it into very tiny droplets. How tiny? A droplet of liquid in, say, aerosol deodorant is about 50 microns wide, or about one-millionth of a meter. Prolitec takes that same amount and distributes its fragrance as 150,000 droplets. This allows the company to release all the ingredients at once.
It’s worth pointing out that this technology is perfectly safe. Prolitec is required to meet all OSHA health and safety requirements as well as many other laws on the books.
“We’re safety nutcases because we think it’s an important issue and we want to be the leader in that aspect,” Weening said. “It’s not impossible—it’s not even very hard—to be safe.”
Up until recently, retail employees monitored the scenting of their stores. That led to problems because of a phenomenon known as “olfactory adaptation,” which basically means that if you’re constantly exposed to a smell, you can’t recognize it anymore. Staff would say they couldn’t smell the scent, so Prolitec would turn up the volume.
Customers who came in the store would then complain the smell was too strong.
That’s where Prolitec’s new ScenXus control platform comes in. By integrating the delivery system as an IoT platform, the company can control the amount of scent from its research center in Milwaukee without ever having to send out a technician to adjust the system or the amount of scent.
The company also can eradicate bad smells. Prolitec has a proprietary technology that works along the lines of a pair of noise-canceling headphones, only for scent.
Weening thinks it will be interesting to see how the commercial market develops compared to the enormous success of Aera.
“The home market is huge, but the commercial market is an emerging market. No one knows how big it is yet. It’s growing very fast, but it’s still smaller than the consumer market so far.”
For an industry that continues to evolve and get more sophisticated, Weening says the new technology is a game changer.
“Scent is just another design element for retail and other commercial environments,” he said. “You can pick your graphics and your font and everything else, but the scent is the most impactful thing in the store. We always start out with a trial, but then customers always want to go further, because they invariably like it.”