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The unconscious perception of smells as a driver of consumer responses: a framework integrating the emotion-cognition approach to scent marketing

Abstract

Previous research demonstrates that odors affect consumers’ behavioral, cognitive, and affective responses to products and environments. Sensory and scent research have prioritized an emotional approach in which consumer responses are primarily affective reactions to smells. However, individuals’ perceptions of their environment are frequently regulated by an unconscious mechanism that does not necessarily involve rational thinking. Therefore, their responses to odors may result from automatic and unconscious cognitive processes that occur without their awareness. We propose that the unconscious odor interpretation better regulates consumers’ responses to odors and behaviors than emotions and that the way in which olfactory information is cognitively processed and integrated into knowledge may address the extent to which odors help individuals to perceive their environment holistically and attribute meanings to events and social phenomena. Through a systematic review of 55 empirical studies on olfaction, we i) discuss the current theoretical approaches to scent marketing and the most relevant empirical findings; ii) propose a cognition-based framework to investigate the underlying mechanisms through which odors are mentally processed to influence consumers’ behavioral, cognitive, and affective responses; and iii) develop a research agenda to encourage further studies on the cognitive processing of scents.

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Acknowledgements

The manuscript is based on the lead author’s dissertation.

The authors acknowledge FGV-EAESP (Escola de Administração de Empresas de São Paulo) that promoted the Research Program that made this research possible and CAPES - Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel that provided financial support for this research.

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De Luca, R., Botelho, D. The unconscious perception of smells as a driver of consumer responses: a framework integrating the emotion-cognition approach to scent marketing. AMS Rev 11, 145–161 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13162-019-00154-8

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Keywords

  • Scent marketing
  • Unconscious cognition
  • Odor perception
  • Emotion
  • Cognitive processing