Scent Design

Friday July 6 |

The talented Tracy Pepe is a scent designer, perfumer, inventor and author who specializes in scenting for brands and commercial spaces. Tracy has been scenting spaces for over 20 years and has worked with clients such as Loblaw Brands, RAW Design, Coty Canada, George P. Johnson, and Church & Dwight. This Friducation, Tracy came in to the office to talk to us about scent design and to give us some samples to smell out! Lots of the smells had a very nostalgic feel and brought back many emotions/memories. It’s crazy how big of an impact smell can have!

Below are some of the highlights and interesting facts from the presentation on the wonderful sense of smell:


  • Scent is a cue for certain products
  • Teaches how scent impacts a human environment
  • 90% of the brands don’t know what their brand smells like
  • We are driven by visual but we are so over stimulated by visual
  • The reason why scenting is so strong is because you immediately bypass the other 4 sensorials

One of the interesting facts that were learned is by disabling one of your senses (e.g. sight by closing your eyes), your other senses become more widely acute. While sampling certain smells like chocolate or wood-burning fire, I noticed a few of us actually closing our eyes and letting the scent trigger nostalgic memories.

Raw Materials
After the introduction to our sensory ecology of smell and how certain smells can trigger certain thought processes, Tracy next taught us about smells being associated with colour. Not only did she teach us to associate smell with a visual sense like colour, but how people across the world perceive and construct smells.

“Often you will say, the Tide in the states is nothing like the Tide in England. Scent has a cultural identification to the fragrance.”
-Tracy Pepe

Real Cedar:
Most people , when you look at the image your visual cue is that when you’ve grown up in Canada everyone knows what cedar looks like. Cedar is an incredible raw material, it’s wood, it’s a base note. It  has a lot of associations that come up for when you have experienced cedar wood, like when you have been in a forest, camping, if you are the rugged type.

Global Perception of Cedar:
Cedar wood and smells is general are very cultural. Brands don’t understand that the cues of scent don’t always cross over globally. Lilac is a good example, we all know what it smells like but you would not find Lilac in Hong kong. It not indigenous to Hong Kong. Cedar is a very Canadian smell we all know, but if you were in Australia you wouldn’t know this. This is as important when you are doing the branding componentry. One of the best companies in the world who does this well and understands the psychology of scent is Proctor and Gamble because they know they will change their scents depending on where their product is sold.

True Cocoa
A lot of people have visions with this one, emotions, memories etc. I, myself was transported to a winter wonderland of pjs, fire and sipping hot chocolate.

The smell of true cocoa to a Canadian does not translate in Hawaii. Scents have stories. If you say ‘Chocolate’, What kind of chocolate? White or milk? Is it Godiva? What we do is we take the raw material and then we add the componentry to add to the taste and smell. When we are talking to the customer it is very important when we are taking Godiva chocolate. Match so it smells exactly how it tastes, for example, Milk smells horrible, but the smell of milk olfactory is usually cool and fresh, you think of the visual ad “got milk”.

You must be really careful with the sensorial elements, especially with food.

The Building Blocks of Smells and Custom Blends
Smells are built of Top + middle + base notes which is similar to how music is built. The chord changes as you smell the scent longer or let it linger just as notes would change through the progression of music.

Custom Blends are not singular notes, there is a story. Properly built scents will change… Tracy says,“On a technical base, certain smells will last a long time and certain smells will flash off. Ex Blue Tanzi would linger, Mandarine wouldn’t last very long. The Y generation scent, it’s very up and down, indulgent aspect in the scent yet has a unique metallic note to it > intelligent,quick. The baby boomers don’t understand them , but  they know they are important.  Some generations believe natural is better for them and hate synthetics however, natural is known to be old and stuffy.”

Scratch and Sniff
Scents are encapsulated so that it lasts, to release it you need to scratch it. It’s also a tactile concept. More academic study needs to be done in encapsulating scent. Fragrance Companies don’t do it because there is not enough margins for them. Everything we do , even garbage bags have a scent to it , hair colours hire performers to mask the scent cuz the bad scent would prevent consumers from using the product.

If you were doing a scent campaign using paper, the paper has to be non coated and raw, and there are only 2 companies that have the patent that actually put the scent inside the ink so that it doesn’t change. You can also you polymer beads that are generally used to scent spaces, it encapsulates the scent and used in various applications. It’s similar to how certain laundry detergents release the scents in microbes that encapsulates scent and releases with movement or throughout the day.

Smelly Facts

  • Cinnabon doesn’t have a scent, Subway Sandwiches isn’t scented either. What they do is turn the air vents are turned around.
  • Las Vegas has been scented for 25 years, hotels, big stores in central air systems, some companies have scent systems with service contracts
  • Ford hired top perfumers and used head-space technology, they captured the scent in space and the perfumers identified it and then recreated before,so put the scent back in the car, mimicking that process.
  • #1 most identifiable scent in the states is Vanilla
  • Earth Tones> inspiration for sporting goods store>tie in  branding, componentry, colours > green fresh, lime, black spruce, cedar wood
  • Metallic notes> animated> zonix, grapefruit, fresh, uplifting, airy
  • Scent, trigger for a think tank for creativity and imagination. Next time you have an idea you can pull out some smells and it will stimulate you visually (imagination and creativity)

*Feature Image by Trevor Landon

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