A hint of the aftershave our grandfather used evokes emotions of times past. Freshly cut grass harkens back to lazy summer days. Campfire smoke brings back memories of family trips and stories told after dinner.
Most people have experienced the sensation of being transported to another time and place by a scent. Scent is the sense most able to trigger memories, oftentimes more so than seeing a picture of our grandparent or hearing the lawnmower purr.
Why is that? The answer to how scent triggers such powerful memories and emotions may lie purely in the physical realm. According to Scientific American, the olfactory bulb runs from your nose to the base of your brain and has direct connections to the amygdala — the area of the brain responsible for processing emotion — and the hippocampus, an area linked to memory and cognition. Neuroscientists believe this close physical connection may be why our brains learn to associate smells with certain emotions and memories.
Of course, like many things about the human body and psyche, perhaps there is a more ethereal explanation. Olfactory expert Dawn Goldworm explains that smell is the most developed sense in most children up through around the age of 10, when sight takes over. That means the aromas that permeated our childhood are the ones we will remember with more nostalgia than, say, an experience 5 years ago.
With age comes wistfulness for days gone by — especially for millennials, who are ripe for marketing that induces nostalgia — and with age also comes reduced olfactory function. That could be one reason that our scent preferences change as we get older, scientists postulate. Certain genes switching on and off over the years could be another reason.
There are many opportunities for companies to incorporate this knowledge into their marketing and advertising. Many companies have already dipped their toes into the realm of sensory branding. NJI’s own headquarters features a custom scent inspired by the organic, earthy notes of thyme brightened with citrus and a hint of white tea. Even tech companies have live events and customer experiences — like opening a new product or shopping in a branded store — where signature scents can contribute to lasting memories that become the company’s legacy.
At NJI, we deliver exceptional experiences that build a legacy for our clients. As we celebrate our 15th anniversary this year, we are exploring the five senses and how each inspires our creativity and imagination. Breathe deep and join us on the journey.