Does that Sound Smell Good? An Experimental Investigation into the use of Verbal Smell References and Cooking Sounds in Radio Advertisements

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Virginia Tech


In an industry plagued by high failure rates and exorbitant amounts spent on marketing, restaurants must find ways to increase the efficiency of their advertising. Present research demonstrates linkages between human senses and emotions and affective responses to marketing stimuli (e.g. Peck and Wiggins, 2006). However, there is presently a dearth of research addressing how advertising can creatively draw upon consumers' senses to elicit the desired responses by stakeholders (e.g. increased purchase intent). In response to this apparent gap in our inquiry, the purpose of this study is to explore how verbal smell references (e.g. "You can almost smell the smoky and delicious aroma of your steak grilling to perfection" stated in the ad) and congruent cooking sounds (e.g. sizzling sounds for a steakhouse) in radio food advertisements impact consumer sensory perceptions (ability to almost taste and/or almost smell the advertised product), affective response, and purchase intentions. In addition, since current research indicates that olfactory perceptions can vary by gender (e.g. (Doty, Shaman, and Dann, 1983; Cane, 1982), this research tested for gender-based differences in these hypothesized relationships.

Regarding procedures, a sequence of two pretests were used to establish the reliability and validity of the verbal smell reference used in this research. In addition to these manipulation checks on the verbal smell reference construct, the two pretests also verified that undergraduate students would have the ability to adequately relate to the experimental setting — steakhouses. Next, a 2x2x2 between-subjects experiment was conducted in which the verbal smell reference was manipulated, congruent cooking sounds were manipulated, and gender was measured. Results indicate that a verbal smell reference in a radio ad does significantly influence a potential consumer's ability to almost smell and to almost taste the advertised product. The smell reference also significantly impacts individuals' affective responses to the ad and purchase intent of the product. Interestingly, this research also found that the level of "excitement" associated with the advertised brand perfectly mediates the relationship between the verbal smell reference and affective responses. That is, the verbal smell reference leads consumers to assess the advertised brand as being exciting which, in turn, results in positive affective responses.

This research did not detect any significant outcomes associated with the use of congruent cooking sounds in radio ads or any significant interactions between cooking sounds and verbal smell references with regard to the outcome variables. Further, gender was not found to significantly intervene in any of the hypothesized relationships. Nevertheless, the significant outcomes associated with the main effect of the verbal smell references on consumer sensory perceptions (ability to almost taste and/or almost smell the advertised product), affective response, and purchase intentions, along with the mediation of the excitement construct, are associated with formidable theoretical and managerial implications which are discussed in the concluding chapter of this thesis.



Congruent Cooking Sounds, Affective Response, Sensory Stimuli, Verbal Smell Reference