Tom O’Toole

How Should Jesus Smell? Scent branding church

Scent branding fascinates me. It seems so obvious. Appealing to all the senses – especially when taste is so related to smell. It’s like nailing two senses with one blow. I went to a tourism marketing seminar with Tom O’Toole, the owner of the Beechworth Bakery. One of the first things he did when turning the bakery into a landmark tourist attraction and nationally renowned bakery was to pump the smells from the kitchen out onto the street. I read elsewhere that fast food joints use similar strategies (which is why they always smell so good).

Smells effect us all. They trigger memories, comfort us, stimulate us, warn us off dodgy food… Jasmine is apparently as effective as valium. Smells are chemically complex – the aroma of your freshly ground pile of coffee can be formed by as many as 800 different aromatic compounds. Smell is powerful stuff – and besides food chains and deodorant manufacturers its been a pretty underutilised element of branding. Sure, we describe new purchases by their scent (cars, leather etc) – but this seems more a marker of quality than a factor in the purchase decision (though you wouldn’t buy a stinky new car). Scent marketers Air Aroma cite research that suggests that 75% of our daily emotions are triggered by smell.

The practice of creating artificial smells is pretty controversial (unless you’re a celebrity launching a perfume brand – ala Bruce Willis… because smelling like a sweaty male action figure is awesome.

Hotels have trademarked fragrances that get pumped into their lobbies and rooms take this little anecdote for example:

Since Le Méridien was founded in 1972 by Air France, Penot and Roschi took a very old copy of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince—the author was a pilot—and had the rich smell of the book’s pages analyzed. (Capturing the scents of familiar objects is quite standard in this industry, though presumably the choice of this particular old book for the testing was more whimsical then determinative.) They used the results to create a scent, which they took to Ziegler. She decided it would be Le Méridien’s signature fragrance, its olfactory logo.

Scent branding isn’t new, the article above dates its use in travel to the 1970s – it even has a name for the part of your brain that the method targets: “Singapore Airlines has a branded scent… used in all of its planes, a light sweet scent like pure steam from fresh rice. If you’re booking a flight…you’ll find it that much harder to go with the competition because the Singapore scent builds the brand in the limbic system.”

The future of the hotel industry will apparently involve us selecting a scent for our room at check in, and the room smelling of roses (or whatever we choose) by the time we get to the door. Some people see this practice as a form of subliminal manipulation, or have problems with the ethics of the perfume industry.

Natalie Dee, a designer, very usefully put together this periodic table of smellements – a grading of smells we find pleasant or noxious.

And, incidentally, it’s now possible, through the availability of precise scientific measuring tools like mass-spectrometers (made famous by NCIS), to analyse a person’s “scent print”…

“Florida International University chemist Kenneth Furton studies the smells that might be of greatest use in a crime investigation. These, he says, are the ones that come from the hands. (Murderers rarely wield weapons in their underarms.) For the last five years, Furton has been cataloging the many chemicals that compose hand scent, including odoriferous acids, alcohols, aldehydes, hydrocarbons, esters, ketones, and nitrogen-containing compounds.”

Robyn tells me that using aromatic oils in the classroom also helped moderate behaviour – lavender calmed the kids down, lemon and eucalyptus perked them up.

Which all adds up to a compelling case for harnessing smells in branding – but is this an area churches should be playing in? Should we install ventilation systems dedicated to pumping the odour of a well read bible through the auditorium at reading time? Should we be pumping the smell of morning tea onto the street to entice people in on a Sunday? What smell do you think captures, or enhances the church experience? What did Jesus smell like? A mix of sawdust, dirt, and after his anointing a liberal dash of perfume. Was that the first case of scent branding?


I was walking through Pacific Fair today. It was jam packed. From carpark to K-mart – everywhere was teeming with busy consumerism. And I liked it. Despite what the hippies might say. I buy therefore I am. With that out of the way (and without revealing any purchases made ahead of my family-in-law’s Christmas celebrations in the brighter hours of this morning), I was struck by a thought as I ducked and weaved through the crowds holding tightly to my wife’s hand. Nay. I was struck by three thoughts…

1. There are literally billions of people in this world who I will never ever meet, but may walk past fleetingly in a shopping centre. That could be my sole interaction with them. Ever. Being in the same place at the same time. Competing for that single spare space in the car park – a coincidental intersection in the space time continuum. That is mind boggling. Each of these people has a life, a history, a story of their own… and each has a different reason for being at the shops at the same time as me. Robyn and I were sitting in one of Pacific Fairs many food courts tittering at the idea of standing on the table and doing some street evangelism. What would the police say as they dragged me away on trumped up public nuisance charges? I do like to watch people as they walk around and judge them by their clothes, snippets of conversation and the way they discipline their children. I like to speculate what their life story is. What life is like for them. Why they’re buying 50 rolls of no frills single ply toilet paper in one go (that sentence could do with some hyphenating). Nobody needs that much TP. People watching is fun. I can almost understand the tantalising appeal of reality television at that point. Almost. Only real life is more fun.

2. Krispy Kreme deserve to be famous for their coffee – not just their donuts. Their stores are always immaculately kitted out with cutting edge coffee machinery – and staff who seem to know their way around a Mazzer grinder and aLa Marzocco machine. I guarantee Krispy Kreme will produce a better coffee than any other global franchise. They leave Starbucks and Gloria Jeans for dead. Every Krispy Kreme store I’ve been too has the same coffee kit – and it works like a charm.

3. If I ran a candy store I would be as happy as a kid in a candy store. Lolly shops are great. I’ve only been to one or two in my time that had an owner straight out of Roald Dahl’s “Boy” – a sour, dour old person. Lolly shops seem to attract nice people. How could you not be happy surrounded by so much sugar? If I weren’t so enamored with the other careers I plan to pursue then I would quite happily start up a lolly shop/cafe.

3a. Simply because I want to add an extra point while adhering to my “three points” promise – I’d like to point out that cookie shops always smell the best of all. I love the smell of fresh cookies at cookie man. That must surely be their sole marketing pitch. Krispy Kreme at Pacific Fair hand out little paper hats to children so they’ll wear them as their parents shop. At least their unruly behaviour may draw the eye of passers by. Cookie Man doesn’t need such trivialities. They have an aromatic weapon that works like the pied pipers flute. I did hear at a tourism industry workshop with Tom O’Toole – owner of the Beechworth Bakery – that one of their successful initiatives was to pump the smells from the bakery kitchen out onto the street. If I were to start up a lolly shop/cafe I’d have to think up a similar scheme.

How do you think?

Have you ever thought about how you think about things? Is your stream of conscious thought in the style of a documentary? Do you narrate events in your life like a detective in a film noir piece? Or does your thinking mirror a monologue to the camera like those annoying spots in Malcolm in the Middle?

Trolling through the links on Dan’s blog I found myself at the home of Michael Jensen’s blog. He’s one of the famous Sydney Anglican Jensen tribe. He’s doing some sort of study in England – you can find it if you like, but I can’t be bothered searching for the link. He posted an entry on viewing life as a stream of narrative. He’s a pretty smart guy. I didn’t really read all that much but it got me thinking about thinking and how I frame my thoughts. I think my stream of thoughts often flows like a stream of narrative – I do things in time and space, interacting with other characters and these interactions lead to outcomes – problems are resolved, conflicts arise… and my thinking reflects that. I think about how to solve things – and the voice in my head (which I guess is consciousness not some weird psychological condition) follows the narrative, or even pre-empts and influences the narrative, when the interactive bits of life are happening.

News stories are taking bits of a stream of narrative and analysing the elements. The journalistic definition of “news” is information that is of some interest to the public. The approach journalists take when they report news is to answer the big 6 questions – known in the industry as the 5 Ws and 1 H – who, what, when, where, why, and how. If narrative is a stream of connected events occuring in space and time then all these elements will be addressed.

Being of a journalistic, inquisitive bent I find that my approach to the narrative of my life has been somewhat influenced by this paradigm (paradigm is one of my favourite words). Not only do I approach any “conflict” or events that arise in my narrative (life) through the framework provided by these questions – but I’ve started viewing every event that occurs in terms of its newsworthyness.

There are a number of jokes out there featuring different professions and how they see the world – or the simple things in life. A true story I heard recently featured a group of people watching the football – a dentistry student, a med student, and an excercise/sports science student. During the game there was an incident where a player collided with another player’s head. Play was stopped while the player received some medical attention. The dentist commented on the effect the impact would have on the player’s teeth, the med student named the bones that may have been fractured, and the sports science student pointed at a guy in the background and said “he’s doing that static stretch wrong.”

And here, after that complicated five paragraph intro is the story that prompted this post… last night I was driving home from Mission Beach (where I’d been for a work function featuring Beechworth bakery owner Tom O’Toole (an interesting character)) with one other member of the Townsville Enterprise team. It’s a 2.5 hour drive to Mission Beach from Townsville – some say 3. Just outside of town we were stopped by a collection of emergency service vehicles attending the scene of a major accident… and do you want to know what my first thought was? Where are the TV cameras… this is a news story. I had my phone in my hand calling WIN television’s news director with the hot tip before I’d even considered the possibility that people may have been seriously hurt by the crash. When did I become so callous? Have I been that desensitised by years of watching and reading the news? Tom O’Toole made a comment about watching the news that was funny enough to repeat:

“If a dog came into your house and pooed on the ground while you were eating dinner you wouldn’t just sit there and watch him – you’d kick it out of the house, or worse… but every night we let the news do the same thing – it feeds half an hour of crap into our living rooms and we just watch it without thinking. I stopped watching news 20 years ago, and now when I turn on the television it’s the same news anyway – same wars, same crimes, same politics… you may not be what you eat, but you are what you fill your head with.”

Has anyone else been so obviously scarred by their profession? Do the teachers out there see every event in life as an opportunity to fill a lesson plan? Do opera singers see every tragedy as a potential aria (the style of song not the Australian Recording Industry Award)? Do IT people ever see any events that happen in the wider world? and do proctologists just think the world is a bunch of (feel free to insert an appropriate colloquialism here – I’m not going to do your dirty work for you).

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