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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: The Primal Power of Scented Direct Mail

Photo purchased from … www.depositphotos.com

We used to call it “scratch-n-sniff” back in the day. It was probably back in the 1970s when I first discovered magazine ads that, when scratched, would release the aroma of perfume.

A number of years later, I read about one of John Waters’ films, Polyester. Moviegoers would receive scratch-n-sniff cards with sample scents to activate at key points in the film, adding to the overall sensory experience of the movie. He called this “Smell-O-Vision” or “Odorama.”

In both cases it is clear that the more physical senses you trigger in any virtual or real event or with any custom printing product, the more vivid the audience’s experience will be.

These days, with VR (virtual reality) headsets available even in the thrift stores my fiancee and I frequent, much of the novelty of John Waters’ Smell-O-Vision has been eclipsed. Once you put on a virtual reality headset (which I did for the first time a few years ago), you see that you can be completely transported from day-to-day reality into an alternate world by evoking internal (physical, mental, and emotional) responses.

And marketers have taken note.

Why Is It Effective?

Our sense of smell is even more powerful than our sense of hearing or sight. It brings back memories and evokes powerful emotions. It touches a very primitive part of our brain that is more involved with feelings and creativity than with logic.

That said, the more senses you can trigger (if you’re a marketer, a musician, or even someone telling a story to a friend), the more intense and realistic the experience will be for the audience. That’s why a Pop Art assemblage (perhaps with actual clocks, bicycle parts, or a mattress attached to the painter’s canvas) evokes a more visceral reaction than a flat painting of the same subject. You don’t expect it. And it engages the senses of both sight and touch (or at least imagined touch).

A savvy marketing executive can parlay this knowledge of brain functioning into an especially effective direct mail campaign or commercial printing piece. If she or he can tell a story about the product or service (let’s say a perfume) with emotionally charged language and images, and trigger the pre-rational part of the prospective buyer’s brain with scented items, the marketing initiative will be dramatically more effective.

Moreover, nothing intrigues a potential client like a “unique” direct mail piece. I receive almost 200 e-mails each day now, so I’m looking for any reason to delete each one quickly. In contrast, I get only a few direct mail pieces, and if one is especially unique, I’ll pay much closer attention to it. Think back, for instance, to the first time you opened a birthday card with a microchip that made it speak or sing to you. At the time, no one else had done anything like it. Because it was unique, it made an immediate impression.

Scented direct mail does the same thing. It not only touches the most primitive part of your brain, but it also makes a direct mail piece stand out and pique the reader’s interest.

How Does It Work?

This question addresses the physics and chemistry of scratch-n-sniff, Smell-O-Vision, and scented direct mail. How do manufacturers make this work?

First of all, the scent is created in the lab. This involves chemistry. If you have ever eaten a bag of jellybeans that mimic the taste of everything from watermelon to chocolate, you appreciate the marvels of science. (Also, keep in mind that the senses of taste and smell are closely related.)

The scented liquid created in the lab is then “microencapsulated.” This means that fragrance liquid is sealed inside tiny polymer cells (very tiny: from perhaps one micron to a hundred microns in size). The polymer cells protect the liquid fragrance until the time of its release. (One company I researched says the shelf life is 3 to 5 months or until activated; others say years or until activated.) And all that is needed to release the fragrance is to scratch the polymer.

How Might You Use This Technology?

If you’re selling perfume, you could always key specific scents to specific locations on your direct mail card. Or you can send follow-up direct mail pieces, each with a different signature scent.

In addition to the power of the scents and the uniqueness of the experience, such scratch-off fragrances act as an “engagement tool.” Your prospective clients interact with the direct mail piece, and this increases the chance of their “conversion” (which means clients will be more likely to contact you for more information or to buy your product or service).

But what if you’re selling gardening equipment? Perhaps you can simulate the smell of a freshly cut lawn.

If you’re selling new cars, you can even simulate the smell of a new automobile. Or you can simulate the smell of tires to encourage recipients to bring their cars in for scheduled maintenance.

You might even want to add a specific smell that shows what will happen if you don’t buy the product.

Whatever you choose, tying the smell (and the graphics the reader will see) to the message of the direct mail piece will increase its impact.

The final and most important step will be to note what you want the prospect to do. This might include visiting your website, using a cell phone to trigger a QR code on the direct mail piece, or returning a business reply mail card for more information or a sample product.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. You can include a scent in flyers, postcards, brochures, letters, or just about any other direct mail commercial printing piece.
  2. Scents can be included in the custom printing inks, paper coatings, or glues used to attach items within the mailing package.
  3. The US Post Office allows use of these custom printing inks and glues as long as the fragrance is not released during the delivery process. (The microencapsulation process mentioned above protects the scented ink, and many printers will also add a top coating to seal the ink.)
  4. Commercial printing suppliers can coat most papers to work with scented ink and glue products, so you have a lot of substrate flexibility in designing your direct mail piece.

The Takeaway

  1. Always think about the emotions you wish to elicit and what specific scents will trigger these emotions. Smells evoke emotions in the limbic region of the brain. They also bring back memories. They are extraordinarily powerful motivators.
  2. Consider your audience and what scents would be most evocative to them (and most pertinent to the message of your direct mail campaign).
  3. Think about the goal of your marketing campaign and what action you want your prospective buyers to take (more than likely this goal would be for them to visit your website).
  4. Then research commercial printing suppliers who do this kind of work. The Printing Industry Exchange (PIE) website would be a great venue to find printers who can help you develop the scents you need.
  5. Then, as you would do in vetting any new printer, request samples of direct mail packages the custom printing vendors have created that incorporate fragrance into the printed products.

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