What to Read Next

Nissan creates signature smell to lure auto show visitors

January 8, 2013
Normally, the announcement of a new auto show stage woudn't be worth the electrons to repeat, but Nissan piqued some interest today when it revealed that in addition to the usual flashing lights and polished Versas, its Detroit auto show display would be bathed in a signature scent, one that the automaker hopes its dealers adopt as the trademark Nissan smell. Having been to several auto shows in Detroit, I'm not sure whether Nissan's trying something daring or telling thousands of journalists they need stronger deodorant.

Erich Marx, Nissan brand director for interactive and social-media marketing, told Automotive News that the company had been working for a year on the idea of scent marketing, a tactic often used by high-end hotels and other public gathering spaces. The chosen fragrance — something called "the vert oriental" in French, which its maker described as smelling like "green tea...during Chinese spring harvest" — will be randomly spritzed from the stand at regular intervals, while "the mood-setting background music will change with a subtly different vibe and energy for morning, mid-day and evening."

The universe of scent marketing relies on several decades of research showing that smell propels memory more than any other sense, from the baking madeleines of Marcel Proust to the Sanitare powder grade-school janitors broke out when anyone in your first-grade class threw up. Mercedes-Benz has tinkered with a similar aromatherapy approach at its dealers, but no automaker has tried to get the general public to link it to a particular smell.

The problem with the idea isn't the concept; the problem is it's not the right smell. There's a whole generation of children whose minds were saved from the outgassing of vinlys and plastics that used to combine for what was known as "new car smell." Since that smell is kinda-sorta technically low-level air pollution, automakers have worked to eliminate it. (Other research shows simple smells work best; there's a reason Subway keeps its bread ovens close to the front doors rather than in back.) Today's new cars lack a common fragrance, which hasn't stopped a few automakers from embracing the idea of making licensed perfumes and colognes. I have no idea what Mustang or Mercedes cologne smells like, but Cadillac XTREME looks like the choice for bros who find Axe Body Spray reminds them too much of the fraternity house. It's one Cadillac I'm not anxious to test drive.