Before the live auction begins at your next gala, consider running through the ballroom spritzing a lemon-scented air freshener. Worst case, ask the hotel housekeeping for a clean-smelling window cleaner and do the same thing.
Some 2009 research proved that smelling citrus dramatically increases our charitable nature.
The study found a big improvement in ethical behavior with just a few spritzes of citrus-scented Windex.
Katie Liljenquist of Brigham Young University, Chen-Bo Zhong of The University of Toronto, and Adam Galinsky of Northwestern University published their findings, titled “The Smell of Virtue: Clean Scents Promote Reciprocity and Charity.” (You can find a PDF of the paper on the internet, if you search for it.)
The research asked participants to engage in several tasks. The only difference was that some of them worked in rooms freshly spritzed with Windex and others worked in unscented rooms.
The first experiment evaluated fairness using a “trust game” in which each subject could trust or exploit their partner. The second experiment evaluated whether clean scents encouraged charitable behavior. After the experiments, the participants confirmed in follow-up questions that they hadn’t noticed the scent in the room.
In both experiments, there was a significant difference in how participants reacted.
In the first case, participants were significantly less likely to exploit the trust of their partners. Without going into details as to how the game was played, just note that the scented room participants shared $5.33 of a $12 amount. Non-scented room participants shared just $2.81 of the $12.
In the second study, each participant’s interest in donating time and funds to Habitat for Humanity was gauged. Windex-ed room participants were significantly more interested in volunteering (4.21 on a 7-point scale) than those in the unscented room (3.29). In addition 22% of Windex-ed room participants said they’d like to donate money, compared to only 6% of those in a normal room.
You can read highlights of the research on this page.
Scent marketing is well-researched. Read these short articles for more fascinating details:
The Scent of Desire – A Marketplace Morning Report talking about scent in the retail environment. One example – Exxon On The Run added a coffee scent to their brewing kiosks, and sales increased 55% for coffee.
Marketplace News Report – Las Vegas resorts experimenting with smell found that gamblers spent 45% more money at the casino when surrounded by a pleasant smell. Apparently experiments of teakwood weren’t going well, but a coconut and a lemon/ginger blend were being tried.
AdWeek’s Something in the Air – Read a fascinating article on how Coco Chanel used scent to launch Chanel #5, and how today’s vendors, including British Airways, Samsung, Westin, Bloomingdale’s, J.W. Marriott, Hugo Boss, Ritz Carlton and Jimmy Choo, all brand their retail environments with distinctive aromas and watch their sales climb higher. “Scent is the sole remaining sense that can directly influence how a customer regards a brand.”
How might we use this in our charity auction galas? Here are some thoughts:
- How about some lemon-fresh auction centerpiece ideas? Use lemons in the arrangement, but dab essential lemon oils into the display to enhance the smell. (Or perhaps there is a way to incorporate those reed diffuser sticks into the centerpiece to disperse the scent.)
- Speaker of reed diffusers, could they be set up in the silent auction?
- Or if you’re ready to try ambient scenting in full force, rent an air diffuser.
- A fresh lemon cheesecake, lemon bars, or lemon-anything that might be incorporated into your menu for the event.
- Gift bags might include a small lemon-scented gift. I’ve not researched this, but perhaps there are elegant hard candies or appropriate lemon / chocolate combinations? Maybe mini room sprays or roll-on fragrances? The key is to get the scent into the guests nose before asking for donations, so the gift bags would need to be on the gala table when guests were seated and not handed to them on their way out the hotel door.
The research on smell influencing shoppers in a retail environment is overwhelming. And with Katie Liljenquist’s study, the concept holds when used in charitable situations, too. It would be fascinating to see the results if this were embraced and incorporated purposefully into an auction gala.