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Ads Have Smells: A SENSANALYSIS Case Study


And no, we don’t mean the smells of the paper they’re printed on!

It is a given that perfumes, body lotions, shower gels, deodorants, etc., all have smells. But did you know that ‘smelling’ already begins when just looking at an ad for the product?

Take your time to look at each ad on the top page. You probably had an intuitive impression of the smell ‘in your nose’ for each of them, right? When you dove into the Johnson’s Baby ad, did you smell the sweet warmth of baby skin paired with the softness of Johnson’s Baby Powder?

Now, what would you think if, when opening the LANVIN perfume, it smelled like JOHNSON'S BABY POWDER? => Disappointment? Anger? Surprise? You’d probably even say “this stinks!” Why? Because it wouldn’t fit the promise of the perfume ad.

A disconnect would exist between consumer expectations created by the ad and the actual product delivery. It is not necessarily because the product sensory is ‘bad’ that a product is rejected, it could be due to its lack of fit with consumers’ expectations prompted by the marketing mix.

In our research conducted in France, we found that RUMEUR (LANVIN) had a fragrance mix that attracts attention and is coherent, while FEMME (BOSS) had some weaknesses.



The SMELL EXPECTATION prompted by the ad and bottle:

  • Fascinating, enigmatic, powerful, sensual, seductive and sexy
  • A “magic potion”, which has a very strong (explosive) effect
  • A rich intensity – multi-faceted
  • Memories of childhood – Smelling soft and powdery like a baby who has just taken its bath…
  • Delicate fresh and floral – roses, muguet (lily of the valley), lilacs, orchids…
  • Contrasted with patchouli, vanilla, musk and incense.


The ACTUAL SMELL described by consumers:

  • Powerful, refined, sensual with standout sophisticated character (surprises – shocks some, is polarizing in liking)
  • A rich intensity
  • Evokes spontaneity, a simplicity of life and general well-being (Joie de vivre)
  • A childhood smell, clean (citrus, soapy; little sachets for the wardrobe), spring day (fresh breeze blowing in sheets hung in the garden)
  • Subtle, sophisticated floral, just-bloomed jasmine, rare rose petals, magnolia, orchids, lilac BUT NOT snobby (not too sweet)
  • Lightly woody, spicy, dry-down, cedar, pepper


- The expected experience and actual experience are similar, as both evoke blends of sophistication and naturalness.

- A fragrance mix that attracts attention, entertains and involves women, along with a scent that reinforces elegance as well as the fun, spontaneous aspects




The smell prompted by the ad and bottle:

  • Romantic, graceful, fragile, elegant, poetic
  • The sensual woman in the young girl is awakened by this perfume
  • Innocence, impressionism, romanticism: David Hamilton photos
  • Ethereal – unreal – fairy tale: Apparition, fairy, angel, dreamRomantic, graceful, fragile, elegant, poetic



  • DÉJÀ VU - Gloria Vanderbilt or Celine Dion, name and “feel” seem ROCHAS-like (“BOSS is stealing”)
  • Doesn’t tell a strong story: Is in her bedroom, or bathroom, putting on her perfume? Running away? Scared? Waiting? Late?
  • Dissonance with image of brand – name is already directly related to another brand (ROCHAS)


The ACTUAL SMELL described by consumers:

  • Nice, soft, easy to wear, has already been smelled
  • Fresh, light, floral
  • Fields of flowers, bouquets of flowers, roses, lily of the valley, orange blossom
  • Slightly sweet/fruity
  • Grapefruit, vanilla
  • For Summer, for daytime
  • A fragrance more for very young or adolescent girls: Anaïs, “my teenage perfume”, a fruity “little girl” smell

- A fragrance mix that fails to invigorate the brand, with a story that is cliché, not prestigious enough, and not building on or adding to the BRAND IMAGE [BOSS].

- Women liked the actual fragrance more than what they expected from the ad, suggesting that offering samples could be more effective than heavy advertising


To increase your chance of market success, make sure you have a HOLISTIC story

=> ad/bottle... speaks the same language as fragrance/product sensory