Making scents of the situation: Where is sensory marketing going in gambling?

It is well known that most marketing plans tend to appeal to just two senses – sight and hearing. However, this is slowly starting to change with more companies trying to appeal to more of our senses in the hope that it will help increase brand awareness and strengthen the impression a brand leaves on its clientele. Welcome to the world of sensory marketing!

Sensory marketing is all about bombarding all of our senses (touch, taste and smell, in addition to sound and vision) and activating them as much as possible. It is also about making the financial transaction (in whatever commercial market) a more complete rounded experience that draws you in to go out and seek more of that product. Like memories, sensory perceptions are unique to each of us and have the capacity to emotionally stimulate.

The opportunity of brand building by leveraging the five senses is wide open. Few companies have integrated their brand-building strategies to appeal to all the senses. This is because not all media channels are able to connect with each of the five senses, and we really don’t know how to handle the phenomenon of total sensory appeal. Over 80% of information is received visually but other senses offer new opportunities to engage the customer. Sensory marketeers believe the theory of exploiting the senses can be applied to all brands – including gambling. It is claimed that sensory marketing provides a competitive advantage and has the capacity to make the unfamiliar seem familiar and appealing.

Let’s take smell. Psychological research has shown that smell is probably the most impressionable and responsive of the five senses. Smells invoke memories and appeal directly to feelings without first being filtered and analyzed by the brain. We all recognize and are emotionally stimulated by a wide variety of smells such as the scent of freshly cut grass or the smell of new leather car seats.

Some commercial operators have already got the hang of sensory appeal. For instance, supermarkets bake bread on the premises that carries the aroma of fresh bread to the shop entrance. The strategy works. Passers-by are struck with hunger and drawn inside the shop. A major British bank introduced freshly brewed coffee to its branches with the intention of making customers feel at home. The familiar smell is used to help relax the customers. Other examples include a leading chain of toiletry stores who pumped the smell of chocolate through its air conditioning system in the run up to Valentine’s Day, and a well-known clothes shop who filled its flagship stores with the smell of freshly laundered shirts.

The direct use of smell in gambling environments has rarely been investigated experimentally. In one infamous experiment in a 1995 issue of Psychology and Marketing by A.R. Hirsh, the effect of ambient aromas on gambling behaviour was investigated. In a Las Vegas casino, the amount of money spent by punters in slot machine areas were sprayed with pleasant but distinct aromas were compared with control areas that were left unsprayed. The amounts of money gambled in the areas were compared for the weekend of the scent spraying, and for the weekends before and after. The study found that the amount of money gambled on the sprayed slot machines during the weekend of the experiment was significantly greater than the amount gambled in the same area during the weekends before and after the experiment. The increase was greatest on Saturday night when the concentration of the smell was at its highest. In short, pleasant smelling slot machines increased the casinos’ takings.

And let’s not forget hearing. Like smell, sound also evokes memory and emotion. Meaningful sound is a cheap but very effective way of appealing to another of a customer’s senses and of powerfully enhancing a brand’s message or appeal. A pop song from your adolescence can help bring back the excitement felt in your teens. Sound effects and noise in the gambling environment are very important in getting people to gamble. Sound effects – particularly in activities like slot machine playing – are thought to be gambling-inducers. Constant noise and sound gives the impression of a noisy, fun and exciting environment. Walk into any casino in Las Vegas and you will experience this. It is also common for slot machines to play a musical tune or buzz loudly if you win with low denomination coins hitting a metal pay out tray making lots of noise. This is all deliberate. It gives the impression that winning is far more common than losing (as you cannot hear the sound of losing!). So next time you are in a room full of 1000 slot machines, remember that the sound of 20 of them paying out is more audibly noticeable than the 980 machines that are losing money for the gambler.

There are many directions in which casinos and other gambling environments may go along the sensory marketing route. They could introduce their own brand aroma, their own sound, and a different quality of light that could set a mood in accordance with each type of gambling (setting up sensory landscapes). There are now the materials and the technology to take punters into a different sort of experience of their chosen gambling environment.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Brand psychology: Social acceptability and familiarity that breeds trust and loyalty. Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 69-72.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Casino design: Understanding gaming floor influences on player behaviour. Casino and Gaming International, 5(1), 21-26.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? (pp. 277-292). New York: Prometheus Books.

Hirsch, A.R. (1995). Effects of ambient odors on slot-machine usage in a Las Vegas casino. Psychology-and-Marketing, 12, 585-594.

Zangeneh, M., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2008). The marketing of gambling. In Zangeneh, M., Blaszczynski, A., and Turner, N. (Eds.), In The Pursuit Of Winning.  pp. 135-153. New York: Springer.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. In 2013, he was given the Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 800 research papers, five books, over 150 book chapters, and over 1500 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 3500 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on May 16, 2012, in Advertising, Gambling, Gambling addiction, Marketing, Popular Culture, Problem gamblng, Psychology, Social responsibility and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thx Mark for the intro to Sensory Marketing in gambling! Very interesting…

    I also just published a post on innovative ways for retailers and manufacturers to stimulate our senses:

    Looking forward to hearing from you!



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