The Evolution of Multi-sensory Branding
Senior Research Executive, New York
In December’s news bulletin, we featured the new collaboration between Johnnie Walker and Harris Tweed – the result of which is whisky scented fabric. Only time will tell if such a product will move beyond novelty and truly connect with consumers, but these two bastions of Scottish tradition aren’t the only ones trying to broaden sensory horizons for themselves and their consumers.
In fact, way back in 2005, Martin Lindstrom’s book BRANDsense put forth the idea that the more senses a brand can engage, the more loyal its customers will be. In the ten years since, multi-sensory branding has yet to truly be mastered at a large scale, but that hasn’t stopped brands from trying to get the most out of this idea and forge stronger connections with their consumers.
Of late, everyone from fast food purveyors and clothing retailers to cinemas and auto manufacturers are joining in on this latest wave of multi-sensory branding. While one-off executions can come across as mere gimmicks, dedicated multi-sensory initiatives can have true, lasting impact by creating memorable and immersive experiences for consumers.
Branded environments are ripe for the multi-sensory treatment, since they can easily address all five senses at once. Thinking of a traditional cinema, most would say that only two senses are engaged: sight and sound – even 3D films don’t go further than this. However, a new crop of cinemas aims to create an even more immersive experience by adding tactile and olfactory elements to the cinema going experience. Some cinemas have added seats that move and shake to match the action on screen, and one Regal cinema in the US ‘even sprays patrons with water and pumps scents (burning rubber, gun powder) into the auditorium.’ These new cinemas engage four out of five senses, creating a unique and memorable experience for consumers – something akin to a theme park ride rather than a quiet night at the pictures.
But multi-sensory branding needn’t be confined to special environments. Like Johnnie Walker, Cinnabon has embarked on a number of brand partnerships that let you bring that famous scent and taste out of the mall and into your home. Smell is an especially powerful sense that links strongly with memory, so in addition to a plethora of Cinnabon branded grocery items, the brand has also forged a partnership with AirWick, which enables consumers to bring that signature spicy-sweet scent into their homes. This partnership represents a fun departure for Airwick (whose other co-branded offerings include Snuggle and Baby Magic – scents some consumers may already have in their homes) while giving Cinnabon the opportunity to keep their treats on consumers’ minds. And if you’d rather drink your cinnamon buns rather than just smell them, Cinnabon’s partnership with Pinnacle vodka might satisfy your cravings.
While Cinnabon’s brand identity is all about flavor, it’s not that kind of ‘taste’ that is usually associated with clothing brands. However, after years of reaching consumers via four of the five senses (clothes you can touch, ads you can see, cologne you can smell, and music compilations you can hear), Ralph Lauren is finally revealing what the brand tastes like via the new restaurant Ralph’s Coffee (and coming soon: the Polo Bar restaurant). By adding branded restaurants to its empire, Ralph Lauren continues to lead the way as a true 360° lifestyle brand in which consumers can completely immerse themselves.
It is particularly easy for luxury brands to tap into the multi-sensory trend because they are already set up as lifestyle brands and – as demonstrated by Johnnie Walker and Harris Tweed – affinity between Luxury and heritage brands is easy to come by. There are even cross-category cues that can be leveraged – for example, the new Haig Club whiskey bottle is evocative of an oversized bottle of Polo cologne. Both Haig Club and Polo Ralph Lauren use a lot of outdoor and clubby social imagery in their stories, so as a new product Haig Club may benefit from the years of tradition, associations, and caché that some consumers might bring with them if they associate it with Polo in their minds.
Similarly, cross category cues are why it makes sense for Porsche to offer a handbag collection and open a pop-up music store, and for Christian Louboutin to extend its brand with nail polish. While the evolution of technology – including apps, wearables, and even scent-diffusing smartphone attachments – continues to make multi-sensory branding a more achievable goal with each passing day, brand partnerships that defy common categorization seem to be the fastest way to bring multi-sensory experiences to life – at least for now.