The Smell of Success

What is the one item on concession stands that (almost) everyone buys when going to see a movie? What do movie theatres, in general, smell like?

If you answered, “buttered popcorn,” you’re right. But, why is it that popcorn is the easiest item, and scent, to recall from any movie-going experience? That is no coincidence. That’s scent marketing.

Scent marketing is the most provocative way to raise interest in merchandise because the olfactory system is uniquely and intimately connected to the limbic system, where our emotions and motivations are born. The feelings and associations elicited by scents are more immediate and intense than those brought on by anything else, and it takes a while for our brains to rationalize why we want what our noses tell us.[1]

There's a reason why you can't pass within a hundred metres of a Cinnabon without smelling that smell. Cinnabon President Kat Cole said that intoxicating cinnamon-sugar aroma is a quintessential part of the company's business plan. It started by accident, when the company discovered that placing the ovens toward the front of each location fills the air in and around each location with that undeniable scent. When the ovens are placed in the back, the smell dissipates - and sales drop by the mid-double digits. "It is all a part of the emotional experience of Cinnabon," Cole says.[2]

According to Harold Vogt, president of the Scent Marketing Institute, the practice is already a $100 million business and is projected to reach $1 billion within a decade. But does it work?[3] Exxon On the Run stores in the US added a coffee scent to their brewing systems and increased coffee sales by 55 percent. Aromatic marketing provider ScentAndrea added a chocolate fragrance to vending machines, tripling Hershey’s sales.[4]

Back to popcorn.

            How exactly will the smell of popcorn positively affect concession sales? A study was conducted in Portugal by the Lisbon School of Economics and Management, to determine the effect of ambient scent on moviegoer evaluations and behaviours. They achieved this by separating movie-goers into two groups: one group that was not exposed to any scent at all, and another that was exposed to the smell of popcorn. This study found that the scent of popcorn in the theatre improved consumer evaluations, increased revenue per person, and raised return intentions.[5]

            There’s plenty of evidence that scents can help positively influence consumer behaviour in retail spaces, including the concession stands. Attract potential customers, and profits, with the smell of fresh popcorn!


[1] Herz, Rachel. "Buying by the Nose." Adweek. January 21, 2008. Accessed May 08, 2017.

[2] Staff. "Kat Cole on why Cinnabon would be nothing without that smell ." The Business Journals. May 27, 2014. Accessed May 09, 2017.

[3] Raven, Karen. "Sniff... and spend." The Los Angeles Times, August 20, 2007. Accessed May 08, 2017.

[4] Herz, Rachel. "Buying by the Nose." Adweek. January 21, 2008. Accessed May 09, 2017.

[5] Veríssimo, José. "The effect of ambient scent on movie goers evaluations and behaviors." Accessed May 08, 2017.