Summary of The IFRA UK Fragrance Forum 2013

IFRA United Kingdom held its third annual Fragrance Forum on 17 October 2013 at The Royal Society in London.

The all-day event, whose main sponsor was fragrance house Seven Scent, took as its theme ‘The Psychology of Fragrance’.

The purpose of the IFRA UK Fragrance Forum is to develop a better understanding of the important role fragrance plays in our lives, each year bringing together around 100 perfumers, scientists from academia and industry, marketers, trade body representatives and others for whom fragrance is important.

A panel of three academics, one industry scientist and two marketers covered a range of olfactory and fragrance topics from which two key messages emerged. Several of the speakers explored the impact of cross-modal sensory research which enables recent research to be used in ensuring that fragrance has an impact of the other five senses and vice versa. The second main strand was the fact that key to use of such research was the need to realise that as we each have very specific scent memories and perceptions, there is value in recognising that consumers’ reactions to scent will differ widely.

The day opened with IFRA UK Director, Lisa Hipgrave, thanking the sponsors and exhibitor, ICATS. She chaired the first of the three sessions of the symposium which explored ‘Fragrance – the invisible difference’.

The first speaker was Dr Craig Roberts from Stirling University who spoke on ‘Body odour in biological perspective’. “Odour is critical in co-ordinating a variety of behaviours in animals but we tend to think that information in human odour doesn’t really affect human behaviour,” he said, adding: “Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Human body odour contains information which enables us to recognise other individuals and may be used in choosing our sexual partners.  Recognising body odour in this biological perspective has direct implications for the use of fragrances”.

He spoke about the way in which humans pick partners with different MHC genes asking: “If odour carries such strong preference messages, why wear perfumes?” He explained that previous research had identified the two reasons for humans adorning themselves with scent: “The introduction of clothing and of cooking,” he said, “has meant that our odour became unpleasant and so we started wearing perfumes.

“We found that when someone’s body odour is combined with their preferred fragrance, the resulting blend is more pleasant to other people than the same odour combined with an arbitrarily chosen fragrance. This suggests that choice of a fragrance is influenced not only by the properties of the fragrance itself, but also by how it will interact with that person’s underlying odour”.

The earliest known evidence of this was found in the second millennium BC. We are, it seems, good at selecting perfumes for ourselves but not for our partners. “We choose fragrances that match our body odour,” Craig Roberts said. Research shows that our natural smell interacts with the perfume we wear and that these mingled scents affect potential sexual partners.

“One implication is that fragrances might not simply mask body odour, but rather complement it, or even enhance the information contained within it. Another is that this interaction could be important in understanding how consumers choose perfumes.”

Marketer, Deb Brunt, Head of Consumer Insight from PZ Cussons, explored the need for ‘Understanding consumers: stepping into their shoes’. She demonstrated the factors that are driving consumer choices/behaviour and how every aspect of a product can communicate with the consumer. “Social pressures mean we live in a contradictory world where contrast and diversity rule. We need to understand those aspects of consumer motivation and what’s going on  under the surface,” she said illustrating the point by showing the same images of a holiday suggesting that the same experience for some would be ‘heaven’ and for others’ a kind of ‘hell’.

All consumers are different and purport to have individual needs but that it is possible to class them within groups as humans tend to see a ‘me v. them’ situation, a social system coined ‘otherness’ by Edward Said.

Understanding every area of a person’s life is needed to truly understand what it is important to them, what they really value to uncover true insight.

PZ Cussons have gone through a step-by-step process with mothers to do just this and their ‘Mum & Me’ range was borne from understanding the needs of mothers and mothers-to-be.

She said: “The consumer decision journey used to be a linear funnel, but today we have more sophisticated consumers who are seeking status, who look for a certain quality among a huge choice, and who are looking for an experience with a brand and product while always seeking more. Social media sites and the reduction of the space-time equilibrium have meant that consumers can tell the world what they want and the brands can openly hear this and engage them through this medium”.

She spoke of the sophistication of consumers: “Purchase channels have been fragmented in recent history and people can now be influenced by a greater volume and type of opinion from all over the world.  Fragrance plays a key role in the evaluation, purchase and experience of a product as it helps to create associations and emotional connections to a brand and product. Point of sale, in-use and the post-use experience are three key ‘touch-points’ that help form opinions and, as such, fragrances need to deliver at each of those moments”.

However, perfumers present received a warning. “Consumers needed more than just a great fragrance to be enticed into buying a product,” said Brunt.

“It is about touching all the senses of the consumer in the first instance, both in-use and post-use, while continuing to re-enforce that this product is the one that they want and need, that makes a successful brand. Finally, it is essential for this process to be dynamic and to never be satisfied with the current level of experience that is being provided by the product as there is always a changing and never-ending development journey.”

The second of the three sessions was ‘Product development and the battle of the senses’, chaired by Stephen Weller, Director of Communications for IFRA global.

 Dr Anne Churchill, Head of Global Sensory at Givaudan Fragrance Division spoke on the ‘The Multi-Sensory Approach to Product Design’

“Stimulating all five senses will in future be the key to retail success,” she said, adding: “We all make choices in our lives using all five senses. When buying or using products, all of the senses work together to provide an overall experience that determines how we feel and the decisions that we make”.

She demonstrated the empirical evidence that stimulation of one sense can modulate perception in another to the extent that true perception can be deceived highlighting evidence from the scientific literature that illustrates these phenomena and emphasising the importance of taking a multi-sensory approach to product design.

Dr Churchill pointed out that humans are a visually dominated race citing research by Schifferstein showing that whilst vision, touch and smell were highly significant in product choice, audition and taste were unimportant.

She said “But touch and smell provide more emotional benefits. How do our brains perceive this?  What we perceive via one sense will influence our other senses. These cross-model interactions create congruency of sensory stimuli”.

She explained that for instance, colour can confuse people by using the wrong combinations of stimuli. “Add colour to an odourless solution and respondents think it smells when in reality it doesn’t,” she said. The wrong colour applied to foods – for instance, blue meat –  had even been shown to cause complete aversion.

She also spoke about the fascinating process of matching not just colour to scents but of pairing scents with musical instrument pitches.

“In spite of this, there is a tendency for product developers to consider elements of a product in isolation or to place emphasis just on the functional performance of the product. This may be to their detriment, as there is evidence that the consumer experience is richer and more engaging if a product stimulates several of the senses so long as those stimuli are coherent,” said Dr Churchill.

Professor Francis McGlone from the School of Natural Sciences & Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University and Visiting Professor at the University of Liverpool claimed in his talk that “The brain knows what the nose knows, but does the mind?” Unlike Deb Brunt, he believes that olfaction is overwhelmingly the most important of our five senses.

Prof McGlone said:  “Although the human sense of smell has declined in comparison to other mammalians species over evolutionary history, it is clear that our behaviour can still be powerfully influenced by odours and fragrances, often without conscious awareness.

“At both a conscious and non-conscious level, humans through the ages have devised means by which to enhance facial attractiveness (a multi-billion dollar cosmetic industry attests to this fact), and an equally lucrative fragrance industry exploits the hedonic primacy of odours in the human brain. Yet it remains unclear whether the presence of odours can modulate the perceived attractiveness of faces.”

He spoke of how most research into the psychology and neurophysiology of the senses focuses on their role as ‘contrast detectors’ that is, their ability to detect change in the environment.

This ‘warning’ function is seen as paramount in evolutionary terms as its value to survival is obvious.  In humans, the main concern of this talk, the senses, can be ranked in terms of their discriminative power with Vision at   No 1 and Smell at No 5 (if we assume we have only 5 senses). Prof McGlone says: “However, research is now showing that the senses play another – and some would say as important – role in providing affective information to the brain about the stimulus, that is, how much do I like/dislike it?  Here we can rank the senses in terms of their affective (emotional) power, and now Olfaction is No 1 and Vision No 5.”

He described emotional properties of the sense of smell and added to the work Dr Churchill described by also showing examples of cross-modal interactions between the senses of vision and touch – no one sense dominates perception.

He said: “Consumers don’t know what they think. William James said in 1890s that the brain is computing things that aren’t there.   A lot of the stuff is hidden. As Anne [Churchill] said we are visually dominated but smell wires into emotion and then affects discrimination like no other sense”.

The brain has to anchor what is being processed. He gave the example of smell altering the effect of touch, for example. “Exposing the subconscious predictively is essential for better product design,” he concluded.

The final session of the day ‘Synchronisation of sensory signals’, was hosted by IFRA UK’s newly appointed Chairman, Jonathan Gray (MD of MANE UK).

Professor Charles Spence, Head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory based at the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University speaking on the topic of: ‘From perception to design’  covered a wide range of cross-modal sensory research topics. He  described how businesses such as Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant used his multi-disciplinary team to use fragrance to enhance and prolong their customer’s experience by providing scent experiences before, during and after dining at the restaurant.

He pointed out that “the most successful products appeal on both rational and subconscious level”. We are as humans not  in-born with innate response to scents and tastes except for being drawn to sweet flavours and so there is no intrinsic ‘pleasantness’ but associations and pairings mean that our memories react to these. “For example, adding what we perceive to be a ‘new car fragrance’ to a used car makes it seem ‘good as new’ even though the actual smell of a new car would be quite unpleasant,” said Professor Spence.

He demonstrated how congruent smells could be useful for new products.

Talking about other sensory influences he asked: “Why do perfumes always come in heavy bottles?” going on to show how the heavier the pack the greater the perceived value of the product. Heavy wine bottles are used to help enhance the perceived value and therefore the price. His team had estimated that charges could be increased for wines by £1 per 8gms. We even found some bottles weighing

1.5kg when empty for some of the most expensive wines,” he revealed.

“This is true of lipsticks and perfumes,” he said.  Research to be released next year (2014) will show fragrance bottles weighing 450gm were rated as more expensive that the same fragrance housed in a 350gm bottle.

Like Anne Churchill, he showed how important colour was in affecting perceptions of fragrance and perceived efficacy.  But he also pointed to the cross-cultural differences which meant that people in different countries often paired particular smells with differing colours.

Speaking of the future, he pointed to one hotel group that offers to personalize your room with your choice of scent but also talked about the difficulties, and opportunities, of using scent for online retailing.

He also spoke of music being linked to scents with fruity fragrance notes being linked to the higher musical notes, saying that understanding octaves of odours could lead to rich insights into consumer perceptions.

Professor Spence described how a whisky event in which his team was involved affected the perception of the product by arranging tastings in three differently scented rooms – one grassy, one fruity and sweet, and the third,  woody. This theme led seamlessly into the final speech of the day.

Peter Noorkoiv, Director of advertising and marketing agency, Craftwork Marketing called his presentation ‘Two drams and a dab: a fusion of scent and brand’ – and led a whisky tasting which took delegates on a sensory journey to the Isle of Islay. He asked first that guests dab the whisky onto their hands, smelling the aroma before tasting the product and explained the importance, in his view, of developing a narrative that engages with people’s lives.

Like earlier speakers, he spoke of people being unique yet having a strong sense of tribalism.

“Thousands of fragrances have been launched in the world.  So how do we find the future classics?” he asked. He argued that, in addition to the five senses spoken of extensively by several of the scientists, he believed there are two further ‘senses’ – emotion and imagination. “’The magnificent seven’ require marketers to tell a good story – a story which is 100 times more likely to be remembered if it is experienced via smell,” he claimed.

Due to the success of the 2013 event and the previous events of its kind, IFRA UK is already planning the next annual Fragrance Forum, which will be staged in London on Thursday 16th October 2014.


The Annual General Meeting of IFRA UK took place earlier in the day when the appointments of Jonathan Gray as Chairman and Stephanie Topps as vice chairman were ratified.


For further information, images of the day, or interviews, please contact

Jo Jacobius

IFRA UK Press Office

0208 347 8206

07850 338 998


Date of issue: October 2013