Create Lasting Memories: The Power of the Senses in Experiential Marketing


Did you name your first car? If so, what was its nickname? If you answered “Rosebud,” then an insurance company is coming for your psyche. Liberty Mutual recently debuted a print ad with a peel-back fragrance strip that emits not the lofty perfumes of the rich and beautiful, but a more surprising and powerful scent: new car.

That’s right—Liberty Mutual’s ad is tapping into your experiential sense memories by wafting a familiar scent in the hopes of sparking a positive response. Designed by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, Adweek reports that the ad was created to “to catch car buyers at the moment that matters most.” According to their thinking, it’s the scent of the moment when you first step into the magical experience of owning a new car.

This does, of course, assume that the experience of buying a new car is positive. In some, it could recall the stress of negotiating a price and handing over a sizable down payment. But it could also bring back a moment of freedom: driving away victorious, all by yourself, cruising down the road in your new-car-scented new car.

Liberty Mutual is banking on that upbeat sense memory. But does this autobiographical memory play really work? There’s good reason to believe it does. The experiences we build into exhibits or booths are designed to bring positive sense associations to a brand, and our entire business is built on the evidence that they do.

How to Create Lasting Memories

“Creating an exhibit means creating a full sensory experience,” says Group Delphi’s Chief Creative Officer Tony Erpelding. “You are thinking about how they will see and move through the journey of your story.” Offer fragrance, food, sight, sound, and touch in a positive fashion, and they are forever associated with your brand.

Let’s look at how the senses help create lasting memories with experiential marketing. At a recent Medtronic HRS conference, we brought an espresso bar onto the trade show floor. With the smell of coffee driving the medical personnel to our exhibit, we offered high-quality caffeinated beverages in crisp porcelain cups, served with delicate scones and other delectable foods.

At a recent CEMA Summit, we created a relaxation lounge for attendees. The furniture was powered for devices and, more to the point, plush and comfortable. Bright flowers filled the space, surrounding a pamper station with oil blotting papers and mints. We asked attendees to sink into our lounge and relax, all within our branded space.

Playing with the Past

But what happens when you stake your marketing dollars not just on creating new memories, but on tapping into past memories? You must bank on the idea that the experience was a positive one. It’s a catch and release kind of marketing that is risky but can be extremely powerful.

In fact, evidence points to the fact that not only are our sense memories driving our consumer habit, but our memories can also be reshaped by present experiences. One study out of the University of Washington shows that memory can be manipulated by advertising. As its authors write, “participants viewed an ad for Disney that suggested that they shook hands with Mickey Mouse as a child. Relative to controls, the ad increased their confidence that they personally had shaken hands with Mickey as a child at a Disney resort.” The study’s authors felt that this confidence “could be due to a revival of a true memory or the creation of a new, false one.”

By this thinking, the scent of new car can absolutely make you buy auto insurance. Even if the experience wasn’t all positive, your subconscious may rewrite it to be.

Experiential marketing can indeed fill a convention hall or it can be as small as an ad in a magazine; size does not necessarily create stronger memories. Will the Citizen Kane of the late 21st century turn longingly to the memory of a scented newspaper insert? Only time and modified memory may tell.

For making memories, one emotion is more powerful than all the rest: joy. Learn how to add a splash of happy to your next campaign with The Marketer’s Guide to Joy.

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