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Sniff That!

Psychotherapist Daniel Fryer discusses what your toiletries and other products say about your venue, brand and overall tone, and what memories you want people to take away from their visit.

A couple of years back, a friend bought me a bottle of Jovan Musk for Men for my 50th birthday. He bought it as a joke. The same friend had bought me the same fragrance exactly 29 years ago as a 21st birthday present. Again, this was by way of a joke. I was a goth at the time and Jovan Musk for Men, originally launched in 1973, was already a vintage scent and one with a rather cheesy and misogynistic tagline that sat a million miles away from my fine gothic sensibilities. However, it smelled really, really, good. And so, I wore it often. Upon smelling it again, 50-year-old me was instantly transported back in time and subject to a kaleidoscopic array of happy memories and good times with good friends. For a moment, I became 21 again.

They say a picture paints a thousand words but that’s got nothing on the punch packed by our sense of smell. Not only do our olfactory senses trigger really strong memories, but the scents and fragrances they pick up on are also integral to our mental health. After all, you can’t have aromatherapy without aromas.

L’Occitane en Provence products, for instance, always remind me of a rather pleasing stay at an upmarket boutique hotel, whilst coal tar soap always reminds me of long weekend in a chintzy BnB in Southend circa 1992.

Fragrances, however, aren’t just limited to the bathroom as, if you’ve played your cards right, you’ve already enhanced your brand and created a sense of awesome ambiance and calm content throughout your venue through the cunning and strategic application of very nice smelling things.

It’s not for nothing that back in 2018, Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts introduced a signature scent created exclusively for the brand. It apparently captured ‘the elusive sentiment of summer with a nostalgic nod to the glamorous travel of the 1960s’ and was a feature in the public spaces of more than 100 Le Méridien Hotels globally. It was also available as a candle.

And as far back as 2014, Mexico’s Rancho La Puerta resort and spa was using plants and flowers grown on site to create a signature scent that was misted through both the hotel’s public areas and guest rooms and was also available for purchase by the bottle.

Maire Claire magazine reckon you can recreate a stay at the Dorchester (if you’ve ever been) with a Fig and Cassis scented candle. But that might lose a little in translation.

Research shows that the right fragrance has a positive effect on consumer behaviour, which is why hotels, bars, restaurants, shops and shopping centres spend a lot of time, energy and cash on getting it ‘just right.’

But how do aromas, scents and fragrances do that? Why are they so evocative?

Smell is connected to the area of the brain that process emotions (the amygdala) and memories (the hippocampus) and is the only one of our five senses that is fully developed at birth.

Not only that but, scents are the only sensations that travel that path directly. The other four senses first travel to another part of the brain (the thalamus) which acts as a switchboard relaying pertinent information about what we see, hear and feel to the rest of the brain. Our sense of smell then, literally has no filter.

This sense is also unique and individual to each and every one of us, and while many fragrances carry certain themes, different fragrances will trigger different memories and emotions in different people.

When it comes to our mental health and wellbeing, fragrances have a history going back thousands of years, with essential oils and aromas being used for cultural and medicinal purposes as far back as 3,000BC.

I’ve even used them in therapy. Not, as you might think, by using a scented candle or reed-diffuser (although I and many other therapists do) but, also, directly, in therapy. Take stopping smoking via hypnotherapy, for instance. Aversion therapy is a thing, so you can strongly suggest that every time someone thinks about a cigarette, they will smell poo or something else equally nasty, feel nauseated, and lose the desire to smoke. But you can use smell in a much nicer and far less queasy way. One memorable lady, who was having much trouble with the stopping smoking said that part of the problem was her house. It still stank of cigarettes and, in doing so, acted as a constant reminder. She also had a garden that she loved, one could see, sense, and appreciate through large French windows. We discussed her favourite garden aromas, and I gilded one particular lily like you wouldn’t believe during the hypnosis session. “Ooooh, lavender,” she sighed dreamily as she came out of trance. “I can smell it now.” And, as far as I know, she never touched a cigarette again.

So, whether it be in your bathrooms or front-of-house, how are you using fragrances in your establishment? Do you simply use them to mask nasty niffs and malodorous pongs or are you also using them to create a certain ambience or, better still, a strategic link to your brand via emotion and memory?

Jovan Musk for Men, meanwhile, is still available today. So, a part of me will remain forever 21. If only it also came as a reed diffuser.


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