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Aradhna Krishna (ed.) Sensory Marketing: Research on the Sensuality of Products.
New York: Routledge, 2010. Xxx, 392pp ISBN 978-1-84169-889-2 (pbk) US$39.95
In June 2008 the first conference to focus on sensory marketing was held in the Ross
School of Business, Ann Arbor Michigan. Two years later this volume bringing
together papers presented at the conference was published in the format of an edited
book. Sensory Marketing sticks fairly closely to the format of the original meeting.
Chapters discuss how sensory aspects of products affect emotions, memories,
perceptions, preferences, choices and consumption. Editor Aradhna Krishna signals a
need for consumer behaviour researchers to take on board the sensory turn that has
informed much psychological and neurological work published in the last decade, and
also suggests that we need to focus on interactions between different senses, instead
of assuming that choice is dominated by vision. The conference brought together
researchers in an emerging field of research and this edited collection aims to at once
introduce the field, facilitate sensory marketing practice and be useful for academic
research and teaching.
The volume is organised into five sensory sections: haptics, olfaction, audition, vision
and taste. Each section includes four short papers, presented in a similar format and at
comparable levels of detail. In all 37 different authors have contributed to the volume,
the vast majority of whom are based in marketing or consumer research. In the haptic
section chapters by Joann Peck and Roberta Klatsky introduce how the sense works
and its relevance for marketing, whilst subsequent chapters focus on incidental touch
and product evaluation. The olfactory block also starts out with more general
materials, including Herz’s excellent overview. Morrin et al offers one of the few
considerations in the volume with any multi-sensory interplay in their focus upon
scent and music, but Lwin and Wijiya’s consideration of feelings and cross cultural
similarities fails to convince because of a very narrow sample range and over naive
generalisation. I found the sections of material relating to audition and vision the least
satisfactory in this book. Audition includes chapters focusing on aspects of music and
the spoken word, but fails to explore the affect of genre, media or context in sufficient
detail. The wealth of work on visual cues relating to consumption is only poorly
reflected in chapters presented here. Only Kahn and Deng’s consideration of visual
weight perception seemed to offer anything significant or novel. By way of contrast
chapters focusing on taste are more convincing. Krishna and Elder’s overview is
probably the most persuasive piece in the entire volume and successfully explains the
significance of the modality, whilst also offering an interdisciplinary focus largely
absent in other chapters. The two subsequent pieces on food also tantalise. The final
substantive chapter in this section however seems strangely misplaced, offering as it
does a largely visual analysis of size labelling. The collection is topped and tailed by
an introduction and multiple-authored conclusion from graduate students, signalling
future research directions. An author and subject index concludes the book.
Aradhna Krishna the editor of this volume is “a sensuist who enjoys drinking second
flush Darjeeling tea in porcelain cups, collecting figurative art prints, listening to a-
tonal jazz, cooking foods with strong aromas, and gardening without gloves”( pp xv).
What a shame then that this volume so conspicuously fails to deliver a sensual and
critical encounter with consumer culture and practice comparable to her self-professed
richly sensual enjoyment!
The format of the volume does not help. It is hard to convey multisensory experience
in the format of a relatively cheaply produced academic text book. Even the visual
sense is deployed in a very limited fashion here: there is no list of figures and only a
single chapter by Kahn and Deng on product image locations offers any visual
evidencing of its material to back up its wor(l)dly cliam. Elsewhere a few conceptual
diagrams frame arguments. But no accompanying web site offers a multi-mediated
approach to the apparently significant discussion of multi-sensory desire. Instead the
dry academic prose, carefully referenced offers generalized and closed answers.
This book is, however, also a disciplinary prisoner and as a consequence is strongly
decontextualized. Almost all of contributors come from consumer marketing or
psychological backgrounds. Most offer an apparently neutral and a-cultural
interpretation of products, grounded in extensive sample-based interpretation, from
which quantitative behavioural differences are unpacked. The process of sensory
encounter is almost never explored. There is no participant observation or qualitative
interpretation to offer any informed critique of the largely experimental investigation.
Instead this collection elides any situated view of the work that the sensual achieves in
different cultural contexts. Geography is almost completely lacking here. The
supermarket, the street, the city, the country, the body, the community, the household
are all largely absent in texts that treat the commodity as a given, instead of serving as
a mutable material form. Its sensual role is deemed to be largely invariant, instead of
hybrid, or co-constructed, or negotiated in different cultural contexts.
So despite the promise of this volume its optimistic and boosterist conclusions for the
potential of a newly emerging research focus are likely to be of limited value. Sensory
Marketing is too academic for marketing practitioners. Its narrow disciplinary and
methodological focus is too limiting for readers of this journal with wider critical
interests. Too few chapters engage with a multi-sensory approach. And perhaps above
all and despite the appeal of the topic, its presentation and style is rather boring. As a
product it fails to appeal. An interesting paradox in the light of the research findings
documented by authors in this somewhat uneven collection of material!
Reviewed by Chris Perkins
University of Manchester, UK