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Feel like spending? Hold your nose, think again

The sense of smell can trigger memories that can overwhelm you. Most people have experienced it when they smell the perfume or cologne of a past flame. If that relationship ended badly, you might instantly be put into a bad mood. If you miss them, you might find yourself daydreaming about them for a minute.

Smells are powerful, and as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker: "With great power comes great responsibility." Unfortunately, put into the hands of marketers, great power leads to more ways to get you to buy stuff.

Sometimes it can be subtle. A brand fragrance can be developed by a company and dispersed in low volumes to simply provide another sensory stimulus for your browsing experience. It helps reinforce the brand of the company in your memory. The Le Meridien hotel chain had a custom scent created that you can smell at any of its hotels.

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It's like finding a Tim Hortons across the border. Familiarity breeds comfort.

In other cases, scent marketing consultants recommend odours that are pleasant on their own, like the smell of cookies being baked. That might encourage you to buy more treats at a coffee shop. This style of bold scent marketing is not uncommon to anyone who's shopped for a house lately. The smell of warm apple pie permeating throughout an open house might add a few thousand dollars to the seller's wallet because of the comfort it can induce.

If you're the seller, you should be baking lots of apple pies. It should lead to more demand and a higher price. If you're the buyer, you need to consciously try to separate the effects of the pleasant smell from the rest of the feelings you had about the house. After all, you can make a pie in any home you choose.

Thematic scents can complement storefronts' overall designs. If you can still find a movie rental store, you might detect the scent of popcorn inside. Since the association between popcorn and movies is so strong, the smell might serve to immerse you more deeply into thinking about movies and lead to more rentals or purchases.

If you want to know what the next possible technological advance for film and television is, consider that your eyes and ears are already overwhelmed. In 2006, Japanese movie-goers were able to watch the Colin Farrell movie, The New World, complete with aromatic enhancements. Also in Japan, engineers have figured a way to use home ink-jet printer technology to combine base smells in various recipes to provide a larger variety of aromas.

That means it could be only a matter of time before TVs start incorporating odours. Instead of just having an aquarium channel for when you're entertaining, now there could be an apple pie channel for when you are selling your home.

Scent-based marketing is subtler than visual cues, yet it can clearly be powerful. But it's tough to quantify just how much more money we are willing to spend on the same item if under the influence of scent marketing. My best advice is to merely be cognizant of it. When you smell a pleasant odour, you should immediately consider that it could be by design to get you to spend more money.

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Preet Banerjee, B.Sc, FMA, DMS, FCSI, is a W Network Money Expert, and blogs at You can also follow him on twitter at @PreetBanerjee

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About the Author
Personal Finance columnist

Preet Banerjee is a consultant to the financial services industry. You can follow him on twitter at  @PreetBanerjee. You can find his conflict of interest disclosure on his website. More

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