Smells and multimodal learning: The role of congruency in the processing of olfactory, visual and verbal elements of product offerings
MacInnis, Deborah J.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractSmells are being included as key components of product offerings in an ever increasing number of product categories. However, this practice is guided only by intuitive beliefs that the addition of smells might lead to richer brand identities, help brand preference etc. This is because olfaction research in marketing is in its infancy while studies in branding have focused on strategies to extend a brand's existing equity rather than on issues relating to the initial formation of brand knowledge structures. Thus, there is little understanding of the processes that govern consumer learning of products that involve olfactory in addition to visual and verbal elements. This research examines the role of smells vs. visual/verbal elements in the encoding process of such multimodal brands. Our primary focus is on exploring the effects of congruency among the various elements on the derivation of olfactory associations and learning of the brand. Subjects in the study were exposed to fictitious brands of bath oils and asked to rate the appeal of each brand. Subjects examined the triads of brand elements (i.e., smells, colors and labels) in one of two sequences and the combinations that represented each brand differed based on various congruency conditions. Subjects then undertook a recognition task that was devised to test their learning of the associations between the brand elements. The results suggest that visual/verbal elements play a dominant role in shaping encoding of the product offering. Visual/verbal associations were learned quite easily, regardless of congruency. By contrast, associations between the odors and the labels or colors were learned more accurately when the relevant pair was congruent. Further, the labels and colors seemed to guide the learning of smells. Thus, when the smell was the sole incongruent element and the visual/verbal cues consistently pointed in a different direction, the odor was aligned with the other elements. Consequently, overall brand learning was contingent on the number of congruent cues that were present to assist in the derivation of olfactory associations. These findings provide guidelines to marketers faced with various branding decisions relating to product offerings that incorporate smells.
Degree ProgramGraduate College