Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Designing Smell

A story in today's Wall Street Journal was about a product characteristic I rarely consider: its scent. " 'Your home could look clean, but if there's an absence of scent, you don't really know,' says Scott Beal, a Procter & Gamble brand manager for P&G's Febreze air-care line. 'Scent is a signal you've done something.' "

For decades, lingering whiffs of ammonia and bleach in bathrooms and kitchens signaled a freshly scrubbed home. In the 1970s and 1980s, the scent of pine forests and lemon groves gained acceptance.

Now the smell of clean has become a wildly varied bouquet: mandarin-lime detergent, disinfectant evoking "lavender vanilla and comfort," toilet-bowl cleaner in eucalyptus mint. Bleach can smell like a "fresh meadow." A new deodorizer, which hit store shelves last month, promises a "Moroccan bazaar."

Adding new fragrances to products also lets consumer-products makers employ their favorite phrase: new and improved. Scents are "the lowest-hanging fruit as far as new-product innovation is concerned -- you don't have to change a capability or substantiate a new claim."

Some cleaning-products makers have found they can't let their goods smell too pleasant. Clorox bleach, available in fragrances such as fresh meadow, clean linen and lavender, takes care to keep the original bleach scent faintly detectable. "We tried covering it up, and it didn't work -- consumers still want the bleach smell, just lighter," says Michael Ott, director of research and development for Clorox.

Pine-Sol, also owned by Clorox, avoids fragrances that seem too gentle. Current Pine-Sol fragrances include Wild Flower Blast and Mountain Energy.

"The scent experience needs to be aligned with the message you're trying to communicate -- Pine-Sol needs to scream 'power,'" Mr. Ott says. "You'll never have a rose-petal Pine-Sol; that's almost comical."

from "Is the Smell of Moroccan Bazaar Too Edgy for American Homes?" by Ellen Byron.