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The Power of Olfactive Branding

Dawn Goldworm, of 12.29, challenged the age-old premise that people have individual olfactive preferences.

Dawn Goldworm, president and chief creative at branding agency 12.29, challenged marketers’ age-old premise that each person has her or his own individual olfactive preference.

She started her career at Avon Products Inc. and Coty Inc., when the celebrity fragrance boom began and was given the requests: Could you re-create the smell of my last holiday? …of my childhood? …of my baby?

“As an eager young professional I tried,” she said. “Regardless of the outcome, I started to question why were they asking me to bottle their memories. And why as an organization did we feel that we could find success on shelf and ultimately, repurchase, by bottling the memories of these people.”

Goldworm began researching the part of the brain responsible for humans’ sense of smell, the limbic system. “It was at the very beginning of the Internet. There wasn’t a lot of information online,” she said. “The brain is very under-researched.

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“But what I did find was very interesting,” she continued. “The limbic system that is responsible for olfactive cognition is also responsible for our ability to feel and to remember.”

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Goldworm learned that at 13 weeks of gestation, fetuses have a fully developed sense of smell, and their taste preferences start being formed. “Then, once we’re born, our entire world is smell,” she said. “It’s our dominant and primary sense until we are 10 years old. Our only other sense that is fully developed at this stage is emotion.”

Goldworm explained that each time someone has an experience, there’s a feeling and smell linked to it, and that memory is stored away.

“We are told that what we like [olfactively] is wholly different from the person sitting next to us,” she said. “What if I told you this is completely false?”

Goldworm attested olfactive preferences are based on one’s culture, generation and living environment, and that many of the sources of each smell, ingredients experienced in that first decade of life, are global.

“So taking the memory of a holiday in Thailand and putting it in a bottle, hoping that it’s going to be successful on shelf? The chance of success is low. But if you understand your target market…you have a very big possibility of having a successful, global fragrance launch,” she said.

That’s how her company, 12.29, which has worked on brand fragrances for the likes of Nike, Valentino and Harrods, was born.

“I thought there’s a greater possibility here,” Goldworm continued. “[Fragrance] could be used as a marketing tool…for brand communication identity. We use the visceral language of scent to transform brand-building. We use scent as a pillar of brand identity to create memorable and identifiable communication between brands and consumers, across industries.”

“How can you create a scent from Nike?” she asked. “Everyone associates in some way with Nike.”

Goldworm dug deep into Nike’s target, and opted for the fragrance now scenting the brand’s stores to focus on one element — sports-related moments.

For Valentino, 12.29 designed a brand fragrance that nods to the label’s roots and has no gender, and can be experienced in the brand’s boutique, showroom and fashion shows. While for Harrods, the agency crafted the scent of U.K. Christmas.