Scent has long transcended time and space. Now, it’s being used to connect humans, bridge digital gaps and fuse the functional with the emotional.
This post first appeared in partnership with the Future Laboratory. Available here.
Our digital lives and the global pandemic have created a touch-hungry world. Social media research undertaken by Firmenich found that, between January and November 2020, of humans’ five senses, the lack of touch was discussed the most online, dominating 72% of the conversation. Despite being at home together during lockdowns, our research found that 28% of consumers claim to have had less physical intimacy with their loved ones.
People are also online more than ever – the average daily time spent consuming digital content now totals six hours and 59 minutes (source: Double Verify). Unsurprisingly, the limitations of no-touch living are elevating consumers’ other senses. In a 2020 Firmenich global study, 56% of people agreed, ‘Since the global health pandemic, I appreciate scent more,’ while major news outlets such as The New York Times have dedicated column inches to people’s sense of smell and a growing respect for it.
At a time when the fragrance industry is exploring how we can experience scent digitally, people are turning to scent to ‘re-touch’. This supposed dilemma, however, is ultimately its strength. Because while scent does not live digitally for most of us, it has the power to reconnect people physically.
Anticipating that our physical lives will blur even more with our digital selves and experiences, the question for the fragrance sector is how can it positively augment our hybridised lives? Scent was always a form of touch that transcended time – now it is becoming a form of connection to bridge digital gaps.
For younger generations keen to reconnect, have serendipitous encounters and get back out into the world, brands have an ideal opportunity to position scent to make people memorable and form vital bonds. Indeed, the notion of ‘vibes’ – ‘a medium for feeling, the kind of abstract understanding that comes before words put a name to experience’ – is central to digitally native Generation Z’s dialogue online, and in turn how they experience real-life events.
As we venture out again, event and community spaces could drive up meaningful hedonism through scented animations at clubs, bars and music venues. Scent will help consumers to connect, disconnect and reconnect in physical spaces. Called ‘fragrance zoning’ by Glamour magazine, different spaces will be scented with different fragrances to create varied ambiences.
Scent will also conjure time. The Firmenich EmotiClaimTM research reveals specific scents and benefits tied to times of day, so fragrance can be used like an alarm clock or a turndown service at night. In the Firmenich EmotiOn programme, which examines the emotional benefits consumers seek from fragrance, people talk about emotions and scent in language that echoes technology: desiring fragrances that help you turn on/off, wake up, restart or shut down.
Scent will place you at a scene – something that could be crucial in news or storytelling. It creates visceral, physical reactions missing from some of our political discourse. If we could smell a burning rainforest, would we care more?
Scent will augment our personal relationships. An often-cited ‘sweaty T-shirt study’ reveals scent as a biological turn-on or turn-off (source: The New York Times). Smell plays such a large part in courtship that its place on dating apps is just waiting to be realised. Swiping left or right could be decided by scent instead of sight.
Indeed, fragrance creates attachment. This points to companies creating your olfactive ‘fingerprint’ – or that of your loved one or childhood home – to drive connection or nostalgia. Initial studies by Columbia University reveal a possibility that smell tests could diagnose dementia, and scent could help soothe mood changes in people with Alzheimer’s. Consider how scent could evolve from the beauty and wellbeing landscape to become a certified medical aid.
The future of fragrance is feeling. It is the combination of the physical and the emotional, the functional and the captivating. Tomorrow’s premium fragrance market will begin to tie scent to specific times, spaces and energies, making the invisible visible, the sensitive sensory and the magical real. As we re-emerge into the world, let’s remember the power of scent to help us all get back in touch.