Smellevision: PR of The Future

In my first session of the 2015 PRSA ICON, entitled “Multi- Sensory Magic,” Mike McDougall addressed how scent, taste and touch will redefine immersive public relations. He laid the framework by sharing a few stats.

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Now most of us, especially professional communicators such as myself, would like to think of ourselves as the 5 percent who consciously consider our communication more than others. And even though only 20 percent of communication is verbal, the main way that we communicate in PR is through words. We compose speaking points, type up blog posts, draft newspaper articles, create strategy documents, etc.

These words can be seen and heard, but can they be felt, smelled or touched? McDougall makes the point that we can no longer limit ourselves to using two of the five senses.

In fact, McDougall believes that we actually have more than five times the traditionally thought of senses. Humans perceive temperature, balance, pain and a hosts of other less recognized (or too easily grouped) senses.

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Over the past few years, we have been hearing the term “brand experience” used more and more. Experiences seek to engulf the whole person and create a lasting memory.

A company that truly understands this concept is Apple. News to me, thousands of people have uploaded videos to YouTube of themselves “unboxing” Apple products. Talk about “stopping to smell the roses.” We take in so many stimulators every day that we have become numb. However, if we pause and focus, like these people are doing in the unboxing videos, we can appreciate so many different aspects.

The smell of the plastic wrap, the smooth texture of the box, the clean white color and minimal text, the sound of the snug lid sliding off and many other details add to the experience before you even lay eyes on your new iPhone. Consider the impact packaging has; it makes a first impression, creates a perceived value and shapes how people tell others about the product.

The most impressive example that McDougall shared was a Dunkin’ Donuts campaign in Seoul, South Korea. Aroma shooters were placed in public buses and were triggered to release the scent of fresh coffee whenever the Dunkin’ Donuts jingle played over the buses’ speakers. What year are we living in? When I had the chance to further research the campaign, I discovered that this happened in 2012. Anyone else feel behind the game?

According to McDougall, three things are holding us back: ROI, creativity and inertia. We must cultivate a pioneering spirit. Too often, we try to follow the given steps and forget that someone had to make them up in the first place. We could be that “someone” for the next generation. There is so much noise congesting and distracting our daily lives and our creativity suffers. Be new. Be different. Lastly, don’t go big. I know that we have been told the opposite, but in this case, we must start small.


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I have thought of one simple way to start playing with this multi-sensory magic—incorporating scent and taste into social media posts for my food clients. No, I do not have smellevision, nor would I suggest licking your smartphone screen. The idea is to use descriptive wording (crunchy, sweet, spicy, rich, etc.) that immerses the audience and makes them want to experience the food for themselves.

Please comment below how you can incorporate multi-sensory magic! #IdeaShare