Scented Credit Card Offers: A New Trend to Get You to Spend?

Is your mailbox filled with credit card offers and personal loans to help you consolidate your high-interest credit card debt?

This kind of junk mail makes a regular appearance in both my physical and electronic mailboxes from time to time. Most of the time I just delete and recycle these paper mailers as soon as I get them. But the other day there was a particular offer that piqued my interest as I was going through the mail.

The credit card offer was wrapped in a white, almost satin-like envelope. The texture of the packaging felt so formal and high-end luxurious that in a matter of minutes I was tearing open this credit card offer to see what it was all about.

Putting this heavily padded piece of mail in the recycling would have left me with too many questions, too many what-if scenarios. So, I opened it. I had no interest in opening a credit card with this company or opening a new line of credit at all, but my curiosity was getting the better of me.

When I opened the envelope, I found a sample credit card with my name printed on it, which seems standard nowadays. But what was unique was that underneath the faux credit card was a scratch and sniff sticker. The blurb next to the scented scratch-off informed me that if I were to open THIS particular credit card with this credit card company, I would now have access to the most exclusive airport lounges that all happened to have the company’s signature scent pumped in.

What exactly was this credit card company’s signature scent? It smelled like a mix of bergamot, pink peppercorn, lavender, vetiver, and leather.

Given that bergamot is one of my favorite scents, the idea that I was invited to wait for my flight in a beautiful lounge that smelled like this quarter-sized scratch-and-sniff sticker suddenly became all I could think about.

In a matter of minutes, I went from only opening this offer so I could better understand why the packaging was so fancy, to truly believing that I needed this credit card in my life.

I don’t even have plans to travel anytime soon, but as I sat with this credit card offer in my hands, I envisioned myself relaxing at the airport, the scent of bergamot wafting in the air, and it felt right for lack of a better word. I found myself relaxed, energized, and almost buzzing with excitement.

This credit card was here to improve my life and help me experience all the high-end luxuries life has to offer. And that’s when I realized that I had succumbed to one of the oldest marketing ploys in the book. I was thinking with my heart, not with reason or logic because the credit card company successfully got me to ignore my rational mind by exposing my senses, in this case, my sense of smell, to the idea I deserved luxury.

Signature Scents: A New Trend to Get You to Spend?

I know what you’re thinking: “Can my spending really be influenced by what I smell?”

When I was growing up, I remember even before I saw the store entrance, I recognized heavily perfumed stores like Abercrombie & Fitch and Tommy Bahama by their scent alone. It’s hard to think about movie theaters without smelling or craving popcorn.

In my 20s when it seemed like I was attending a wedding every weekend, I came to develop an affinity for a particular hotel chain that had its own signature scent. Even if it cost a little more, I wanted to experience that yummy familiar smell that reminded me of high-end luxury.

But it wasn’t until I received the scratch-and-sniff credit card offer did I fully realize just how big of a role scent played when it comes to spending and saving money.

In a matter of seconds, a scratch-and-sniff sticker scent helped my mind create grand visions of luxury vacations, closets filled with designer clothing – essentially a life where money wasn’t an issue. And it wasn’t until I brought myself back to reality did, I even realize the true power of scent.

Why does scent affect our decision to spend?

Pamela Dalton, an olfactory scientist, and member of the Monell Chemical Senses Center says that people sense smell first and send that information to the very primitive brain centers of emotion and memory. This is why marketers increasingly rely on our sense of smell – they’re trying to connect emotionally with customers.

This is why you may have noticed that Bloomingdales uses thematic scents in different departments around its stores, targeting shoppers buying specific items. For example, the scent of coconut can be found in swimwear, a hint of lilac is detected in lingerie, and “powdery” scents can be smelled in infant wear.

Smells are increasingly used in marketing because people are 100 times more likely to remember something they smell over something they hear, see, or touch, which is why our sense of smell plays a role in the whole retail therapy experience.

According to Dalton, our sense of smell is developed before birth, so babies have been found to prefer fragrances that their mothers wore late in the pregnancy. Dalton says this also means that businesses that expose pregnant women to their scent “are already grooming their customers before they are born.”

The right scent has been shown to make people more comfortable at hotels, shorten the time they think they are waiting at banks, or even improve their sense of performance at the gym, according to Jennifer Dublino, vice president of development at ScentWorld Events, the industry’s trade group.

As companies increasingly try to stand out from the competition, more and more are using olfactory marketing techniques – like signature scents – to not only strengthen their brands but to create brand loyalty and bring in more money.

It’s working. In 2020, the scent-marketing industry grossed $200 million and is expected to improve profits by 10 percent annually.

While scented credit cards may be new, the use of senses in marketing, especially the use of smell is far from new.

Certain scents are used to create a deeper emotional connection with shoppers, says Edward Burke, spokesman for ScentAir, a company in Charlotte, N.C. that sells ambient scents to businesses. Green tea and lemongrass along with white tea and fig are two of the company’s most popular scents, he says.

The reason companies are creating signature scents is because they work.

Rise of Signature Scents

According to marketing experts, consumers follow their noses first, and if a customer likes what they smell, that customer is more likely to stick around and spend money not just once, but possibly for life.

A 2012 study by Spangenberg, Sprott, and Zidansek found that individuals will spend up to 20 percent more money when shopping in an area with a simple scent, as opposed to no particular scent or a more complicated perfume.

In their study, the researchers developed two scents, a simple orange scent and a more complicated orange-basil with green tea scent. Over 18 weekdays, the team of researchers watched the spending habits of more than 400 customers in a home decor store. Some days the store was left to smell as it naturally smelled, some days the researchers made the store smell like orange, and some days they used the complicated perfume mixture.

The days the store had been made to smell like the simple orange scent were also the same days when there was a remarkable increase in sales. Although this didn’t happen with every individual on those days, the effect is noteworthy.

To further test the theory, the researchers also had students solve word problems in rooms scented with one of the two fragrances, or none at all. Students could solve more problems in less time when the air was scented with the orange scent, compared to the complex fragrance or unscented room.

There are other scent-success stories too:

  • Those gambling at the Las Vegas Hilton Casino spent much more time at the slot machines when the casino was perfumed with a floral scent, researchers found. The stronger the scent, the longer the individuals stayed.
  • In another experiment, Nike found that people were more willing to buy shoes, and pay more for the same shoe, if the room smelled like flowers.
  • In a study conducted by Madzharov, Block, and Morrin (2015) it was found that people were more likely to spend money if their environment smelled like ‘warm scents’ such as vanilla and cinnamon. Turns out that warm scents create a perception that the space around you is dense and crowded. Scents like vanilla and cinnamon encourage individuals to buy things to regain a sense of control.
  • Home-cooked food and baked goods give an environment a cozy, homey smell. Some real estate agents bake cookies or light scented candles to entice sellers to make an offer. And you’ve likely noticed the smell of food at the shopping mall or supermarket.

Is there a way to counteract being led by your nose?

  1. Make sure that when you go shopping that you are not hungry. If you’re full, you’re less likely to spend money on food.
  2. Make a list of what you’re planning on buying. This will give you a reminder of what you came there to buy, which were those things on the list only.
  3. Awareness. Now that you’re aware be prepared for your sense of smell to encourage you to spend so you can create a budget or shopping spending limit that you must stick to.
  4. Chew on peppermint-flavored gum or mints. The mint smell helps increase awareness and reduce anxiety, increasing the likelihood you don’t fall into the scented retail therapy trap.

Did you get a scented credit card offer in the mail? Have you noticed you spend more money when you experience a specific smell? Share your experience in the comments below!

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