Mendoza School of Business

When scent crosses the ethical line

Published: September 10, 2014 / Author: Carly Lewis

If there’s one thing I’m superb at, it’s leaving the mall with an armful of cinnamon-scented objects every December. I don’t especially like the smell of cinnamon – in fact, I associate it with unpacking a shameful séance’s worth of scented candles. But it reminds me of holidays past in which my mother pulled off a mirage of jolly order. I appreciate the things it convinces me I am as I ransack the mall three days before Christmas: festive, prepared, on top of my life.

The projected billion-dollar industry around scent marketing makes it one of the branding world’s most pungent moral dilemmas. Ed Burke, director of communications at global scent-marketing company ScentAir, calls scent marketing “the business of emotional transportation.” Carrying the consumer to some place more ideal is the intended result of scent marketing, pursued by everyone from mall food courts to luxury fashion lines.


“Scent affects mood and scent affects emotion,” says Kevin Bradford, a marketing professor at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. “It works without you having the opportunity to filter it. To me, that is extremely unethical.”

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Topics: Mendoza