How to Incorporate the Senses into Your Next Experiential Marketing Campaign

Do you remember the last time you walked into a room, smelled something like a freshly baked pie or chocolate chip cookies, and a warm, pleasing memory washed over you? Maybe it reminded you of baking cookies with your mom. Or perhaps it brought back pleasant memories of Thanksgiving. Whatever the aroma, it brought back a vivid memory and a good feeling that made for a better day.

Brands have been tapping into this phenomenon for decades. The most striking example is the Walt Disney Company, which provides an encompassing experience for all of their theme park guests. As guests enter the Magic Kingdom, they are greeted with colorful sights and music playing. There are also smells wafting from the nearby buildings. Disney provides a memorable guest experience by designing their parks for all five senses. Yet, one area of marketing that has not fully embraced all of the senses is event marketing!

A recent survey by London & Partners and CWT Meetings & Events found that 78% of event professionals believe that events appealing to multiple senses deliver a more memorable and creative experience for audiences. However, only 27% of those surveyed believed all five senses are being effectively stimulated at events. Some aspects of sensory marketing, such as taste, are being played with at events. At festivals, for example, 70% of attendees engage with sponsors for the free food and beverages alone. Of course, most events try to create visually engaging displays to attract audiences.  Yet, other senses, such as smell and touch, are often neglected. 

Planning your events using an experiential marketing strategy allows your brand to capture and retain consumer attention and establish emotional connections with your audience. Best of all, experiential marketing is the perfect partner for sensory marketing. Sensory marketing relies on multi-sensory experiences to influence consumers’ perceptions of brands and establish positive emotional connections. Importantly, those positive emotional connections driven by the senses are directly connected to consumers’ memory of your brand and message. 

The Science Behind Senses & Memory

Research by Rockefeller University has found that in the short term we remember 1% of what we touch, 2% of what we hear, 5% of what we see, 15% of what we taste and 35% of what we smell.  Research on a psychological concept known as “embodied cognition” — the idea that without our conscious awareness, our bodily sensations help determine the decisions we make — has found that people who had briefly held a warm beverage were more likely than people who had held a cold one to think that a stranger was friendly. 75% of emotions experienced everyday are due to smell — because of this, we are 100% more likely to remember something we smell than something we see, hear, or touch! 

Why are smell (and taste, which is largely influenced by smell) so connected to our emotions and memories? Our bodies contain at least 1,000 smell receptors (compared to four for sight). Smell travels to the olfactory bulb, which directly connects to an area of the brain known as the limbic system. The olfactory bulb is closely connected to the amygdala, a brain area involved in emotional learning. It is also close to the hippocampus, one of the most important brain structures for memory! When these different areas of the brain work together, a “what-when-where” memory is formed. 

Don’t make the conclusion you should only focus on scent! Although scent is powerful, research clearly shows that our experience of all five senses affects our memory and decision making. Other research shows that combining information from multiple senses leads to better memory. Thus, the more sensory contact there is, the more memorable traces a brand is going to leave. Best of all, engaging the senses is subtle. Consumers don’t perceive their senses as marketing messages, and therefore are less likely to react with the usual resistance to ads. 

If the science hasn’t convinced you, consider the following: 

  • Any sense not tapped into is an avenue of communication not being used
  • Your audience is going to experience smells, sounds, touch, and so, whether you provide them or not. On the downside, those sensory experiences may not be consistent with what you are trying to convey about your brand.

How to Incorporate the Senses Into Your Next Campaign

Now that you understand the benefits of using senses creatively in your marketing campaigns, you may be wondering how to apply it. Before you put together a campaign, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are your brand’s characteristics? Think of values you want to portray, your brand story and image. How can you convey those characteristics using the senses?
  2. How can you build these characteristics into your event, experience, and/or promotional materials?
  3. Can more than one sense be activated to tap into the benefits of multi-sensory experiences?
  4. Beware! Don’t overload the senses. Overwhelming scents with bright lights and loud noises won’t provide the reaction you want. Use your best judgment to balance the senses in an effective way. 

A great example of an experiential campaign that tapped into the senses is our Abita Big Easy IPA Pop-Up Brewery Band Tour. Consumers were initially attracted by the sounds of an authentic New Orleans Second Line Band and introduced to a new Abita Brewing flavor by a brand ambassador. The audience was encouraged to take selfies and share socially using event hashtags. The campaign even included touch — cards with information on where to purchase the product were attached to classic Mardi Gras beads!


Of course, all of this can be hard to apply if you are new to applying the senses in creative ways. Luckily, Pro Motion has decades of experience creating engaging, fun, and effective campaigns. We’re here to help your brand — Give us a call today at 636.449.3162.


Ready to learn more about experiential marketing? Check out Steve Randazzo’s book, Brand Experiences: Building Connections in a Digitally Cluttered World. Click here to download 2 free chapters! 




1 Nielsen’s Audience Insights Report on Music Festivals

2 Williams, L. E., & Bargh, J. A. (2008). Experiencing physical warmth promotes interpersonal warmth. Science, 322(5901), 606–607.

3 Warrenburg, S. (2005). Effects of Fragrance on Emotions: Moods and Physiology. Chemical Senses, 30, i248–i249.