A new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research (PDF) reveals that subjects salivated over the smell of chocolate cake as much as those that only saw a picture of chocolate cake and encouraged to imagine the smell.
We already know that Realtors bake cookies at open houses to offer a homey feel, and Spas burn lavender-scented candles to induce calm, but this new research proves that imagining a smell may be as enticing as actually experiencing the smell. In other words, imagining a chocolate cake makes you drool just as much as sitting next to one.
The researchers liken the effect to that of a visualization exercise, and call it “smellization.”
As the scientists found, the smellization effect cannot exist in a vacuum; it needs visual triggers. Like, say, a photo of delicious chocolate cake, and a tagline about delicious chocolate cake.
In one study, participants viewed the advertising tagline, “Feel like a chocolate cake?” Some participants were shown just the tagline and others were shown the tagline accompanied by a photo of a chocolate cake. The participants were then asked to either smell a sachet with the fragrance of chocolate cake, imagine the scent of chocolate cake, or neither.
As the researchers expected, smelling the cake increased salivation for all participants. They did, however, note an increase in salivation in participants who viewed the advertisement containing both the photo and the tagline when the cake smell was completely removed (compared to people who just viewed the tagline).
The upshot of all that olfactory-based literal drooling? Those who do it also drool over products in a somewhat more metaphorical sense. An item for which consumers literally salivate is one they both buy and consume in larger quantities. So if you’re trying to cut back on the cookies, do yourself a favor and don’t think about how they smell next time you see an ad.