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Wake up and smell the (virtual) roses

Posted: 2nd November 2023
When we look at the world of branding and advertising, it is easy to understand where more traditional marketing approaches (such a promotional videos) are losing out in competition to virtual reality (VR) experiences. Many brands and retailers are beginning to invest more in producing VR content to provide their users with a more immersive and involved experience, and they are beginning to reap the benefits.
Now for the first time, research led by the University of Edinburgh Business School explores what happens when scent is added to the VR offering. This novel research explores how olfactory stimuli embedded within VR technology enhances an immersive experience. The research team studied scenarios using variety of both ambient (actual scents) and imagined (prompted through description) olfactory cues that were studied in the field, online, and also in laboratory settings.

They found that when a scent that is compatible with the environment is added (for example, the scent of coffee in promoting a local café, or a peaty grassy scent in promoting travel to the Scottish Highlands), it makes the consumer feel more immersed into the experience, which increases the positive response towards the product. In short: olfactory cues heightened immersion which in turn elicits a peak experience (flow), which ultimately improves brand responses.

Kirsten Cowan, Senior Lecturer in Marketing and lead author on the paper said: “We are so excited by the findings of this paper. Technology headsets and masks are advancing at a staggering rate, many now with the tech required to produce triggered smells at specific points in time. As a society as we move towards doing more virtually (like holding work meetings or running classroom lessons), how can we best ‘plug’ people in to work and learn most effectively? We really think the key here could be in scent stimuli!”

“We are now looking at where we can tap into experiences that influence our actions and if we can observe behavioural changes to address things such as climate change. Imagine, if we can use VR games (something fun!) to make these big societal changes? If scent makes VR more persuasive, there are many avenues that we can explore and impact across different industries.”

Read the paper in full

Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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