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nt. J. Trade and Global Markets, Vol. 8, No. 3, 2015
Copyright © 2015 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.
Olfactory branding: a new trend for defining brands
through smell – a case of ITC Sonar Hotel in Kolkata,
Department of Business Administration,
Regent Education & Research Foundation,
2E, Ganesh Banerjee Lane, Dhakuria,
Kolkata 700031, West Bengal, India
Indian School of Mines,
Dhanbad 826004, Jharkhand, India
Abstract: Smell triggers immediate emotional response. Today’s marketers are
conscious about its usefulness in communicating with consumers, leading to
the advent of Olfactory Branding, creating an experiential retail environment
having fragrance to stimulate the overall experience of the consumer.
Previously branding was guided more by audiovisual stimulus but because of
tremendous advertising clutter it is becoming difficult for organisations to
create a niche. It started with the implementation of sensory branding using all
five sense organs, though observed initially that senses like sight and hearing
were extensively used, whereas smell was potentially underused. This paper
tries to understand and create awareness of the proper usage of olfactory
branding trends in ITC Sonar Hotel in Kolkata to persuade and convert
potential customers into buyers and also to create an insight into the
psychological background of scent branding and gives the basis of relevance of
##to influence consumers.
Keywords: scent; branding; retail store; ambience; consumer awareness;
sensory stimulus; global markets.
Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Chatterjee, S. (2015)
‘Olfactory branding: a new trend for defining brands through smell – a case of
ITC Sonar Hotel in Kolkata, India’, Int. J. Trade and Global Markets, Vol. 8,
No. 3, pp.196–206.
Biographical notes: Shuvam Chatterjee is currently working as an Assistant
Teacher-in-Charge for Regent Education & Research Foundation, apart from
teaching core marketing papers. He is also pursuing PhD from Indian School of
Mines, Dhanbad, in Olfactory Branding. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the
in-house journal ‘Essence’ of Regent Business School.
This paper is a revised and expanded version of a paper entitled ‘Olfactory
branding: a new trend for defining brands through smell: a case on ITC Sonar
Hotel in Kolkata, India’ presented at the ‘SIBR-Thammasat Conference on
Interdisciplinary Business & Economic Research’, 5–7 June 2014 Bangkok.
1 Tourism and hospitality industry in India
The Indian tourism and hospitality industry has emerged as one of the key industries
driving the growth of the services sector in India. Tourism in India has registered
significant growth in the recent years and the country has tremendous potential to
become a major global tourist destination.
Indian tourism industry is thriving due to an increase in Foreign Tourist Arrivals
(FTA) and greater number of Indians travelling to domestic destinations than before. In
the past few years, the real growth has come from within the domestic sector as around
30 million Indians travel within the country in a year. Strong growth in per capita
income, rising young population coupled with changing lifestyles are leading to greater
expenditure on leisure services.
Hotels are an important component of the tourism product. They contribute in the
overall tourism experience through the standards of facilities and services offered by
them. The fortunes of the hospitality industry have always been linked to the prospects of
the tourism industry and tourism is the foremost demand driver of the industry.
Travel and tourism’s contribution to capital investment is projected to grow at 6.5%
per annum during 2013–2023, above the global average of 5%. The tourism policy of the
government of India aims at speedy implementation of tourism projects, development of
integrated tourism circuits, special capacity building in the hospitality sector and new
1.2 Market size
The total market size of the Indian tourism and hospitality sector stood at US$ 117.7 billion
in 2011 and is expected to touch US$ 418.9 billion by 2022.
The Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows in the hotel and tourism sector during
April 2000 to July 2013 stood at US$ 6754.49 million, as per the data released by the
Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP).
FTA during the month of August 2013 stood at 4.74 lakh as compared to 4.46 lakh
during August 2012, registering a growth of 6.4%.
Foreign Exchange Earnings (FEE) during the month of August 2013 were
US$ 1.294 billion as compared to FEEs of US$ 1.306 billion during August 2012 and
US$ 1.264 billion in August 2011.
The numbers of tourists availing the tourist Visa on Arrival (VOA) scheme during
January to August 2013 have recorded a growth of 29.4%. During the period, a total
number of 12,176 VOAs have been issued as compared to 9412 VOAs during the
corresponding period of 2012.
1.3 Major developments and Investments
India is expected to receive nearly half a million medical tourists by 2015, implying an
annual growth of 30%. The country has received 43.06 lakh foreign tourists during
January–August 2013. India is perceived as one of the fastest growing medical tourism
198 S. Chatterjee
destinations. The number of medical tourists coming to India has registered a growth of
40% in the past six months. The inflow of medical tourists is expected to cross 45 lakh
by 2015 from the current level of 25 lakh.
The Taj Group has launched The Gateway Hotel IT Expressway Chennai, its first
hotel in the city under the Gateway Hotels & Resorts brand.
Marriott International has launched its business hotel brand Courtyard by Marriott at
the industrial and auto hub of Chakan near Pune in Maharashtra.
ITC Hotels has tied up with Bahrain-based India-born billionaire Mr. Ravi Pillai to
manage five of its hotels under the Welcom Hotel and Fortune brands in India and Dubai.
Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne has opened a 67,000 square feet campus in India to tap
into the growing demand for skilled hospitality professionals in the country. Located in
the newly developed Lavasa Township near Pune, Ecole Hoteliere Lavasa will offer a
1.4 Government initiatives
The government has allowed 100% FDI under the automatic route in the hotel and
tourism-related industry, according to the consolidated FDI policy, released by DIPP,
Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India.
The Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, has signed bilateral agreements/
Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with 47 countries, a tripartite agreement between
India, Brazil and South Africa, and a multilateral agreement between India and member
states of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for cooperation in the tourism
The Ministry of Tourism as part of its promotional activities releases campaigns in
the international and domestic markets under the Incredible India brand-line, to
promote various tourism destinations and products of India. The budget allocated for the
domestic promotion and publicity and overseas promotion and publicity including
marketing development stood at Rs. 110 crore (US$ 17.73 million) and Rs. 350 crore
(US$ 56.41 million) for the FY 2013–2014.
The ministry has set up a Hospitality Development and Promotion Board, which will
monitor and facilitate hotel project approvals. The allocation for Ministry of Tourism in
the Union Budget 2013–2014 has been increased by Rs. 87.66 crore (US$ 14.13 million)
to Rs. 1297.66 crore (US$ 209.30 million).
In a major boost to the North-East tourism sector, Mr. K. Chiranjeevi, Union Minister
for Tourism, Government of India, has approved Central Finance Assistance (CFA) to
various tourism development projects in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and
Nagaland. The ministry has approved CFA of Rs. 25.04 crore (US$ 4.03 million) for the
ongoing tourism mega circuit projects at Tirupati and Kadapa district in Andhra Pradesh.
The government has proposed to set up the Central Institute of Hotel Management
(IHM), Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition in the country. The IHM will be
set up at Jagdishpur, Uttar Pradesh.
The Ministry of Tourism has undertaken joint development of tourist amenities at
Amritsar and Rai Bareilli, Trivandrum, Gaya and Agra Cantt Railway stations in
association with the Ministry of Railways. CFA of Rs. 10.28 crore (US$ 1.65 million),
Rs. 5.98 crore (US$ 964,453.42), Rs. 5.18 crore (US$ 835,413.19) and Rs. 5.05 crore
(US$ 814,141.59) have been provided by the ministry for the same.
2 Olfactory branding and hospitality industry
Olfactory branding is:
One of the most significant features of the total product is the place where it is
bought or consumed. In some cases the place, more specifically the atmosphere
of the place, is more influential as the product itself in the purchasing decision.
In some cases, the atmosphere is the primary product (Kotler, 1973, p.48)
The smell of strong coffee beans of Starbucks, perfumes in Shopper’s Stop (Bless et al.,
1990) and stuffed cookie aromas from Cookie Man are all about today’s branding therapy
(Bone and Jantrania, 1992). It seems that olfactory branding or better known as scent
branding is an essential part of today’s consumers’ daily life. Olfactory branding relates with
our nose, and it is the only sensory stimulus which has got direct contact with our brain.
Scent marketing is becoming an incredible tool as brands discover the role scent plays
in connecting with customers on an emotional level (Bosmans, 2006). It is most effective
when combined with other sensory triggers, such as sight, sound and textures to create a
unique customer experience (Clegg, 2006). Scent can trigger a memory or desire that
influences a purchase decision. Across industries, businesses are using scent as part of
multi-sensory marketing strategies to enhance customers’ experiences of a location and
its products or services (Donovanand Rossiter, 1982). This all adds up to a new way of
impressing a company’s brand identity on the memory of the consumer: not just a logo,
but also an olfactory experience (Engen, 1982). Research has shown that people remember
35% of what they smell, compared with only 5% of what they see, 2% of what they hear
and 1% of what they touch (Eroglu and Machleit, 1990; Hirsch, 1995). Scent makes a
brand identity more unique, strengthens customer loyalty and adds to the perception of
quality, an element that is essential to every brand in today’s competitive market
Top ten smells that make people happy are as follows:
1 freshly baked bread,
2 clean sheets,
3 freshly mown grass,
4 fresh flowers,
5 freshly ground coffee,
6 fresh air after rainfall,
9 fish and chips,
10 bacon frying.
Key properties in Kolkata are as follows:
The Oberoi Grand,
200 S. Chatterjee
Monotel Luxury Business Hotel,
The Gateway Hotel,
The Sapphire Suites.
3 ITC Sonar, Kolkata
ITC Sonar, Kolkata, is the first hotel in east India to have been awarded the coveted
Platinum certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design
(LEED®) certification programme.
ITC Sonar uses considerably less energy than that used by the average large size
The hotel has a computer-based building management system to monitor and control
the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC), lighting, metering and water
Automatic lighting controls (building management system) have been installed to
time off the non-emergency lighting during after-business hours.
Sonar is the first hotel to receive carbon credits in the world through the CDM
initiatives of UNFCCC.
3.1 ITC Sonar’s success in implementing scent branding
ITC Sonar started off their luxury hotel chain in Kolkata with the aim of refreshing the
minds of their customers not only with utmost luxury during their stay in the hotel
(Krishna, 2009), but also with what is called the olfactory branding projected in fetching
more customers (Krstiger, 2008).
Strategically positioned at entrances to greet guests as they arrive, ScentWave scent
(Lawless, 1991) delivery systems offer a light and refreshing White Tea welcome in ITC
Sonar hotel in Kolkata (Lindstrom, 2002). ITC Sonar has taken the idea of sensory
branding and signature scent to a whole new level, and they have successfully enriched
the overall ‘in-stay’ experience.
A retailer survey would reflect the way scent branding was projected for ITC Luxury
Collection Hotel Chain.
In total, 250 questionnaires were distributed to the guests of ITC Sonar Hotel, Kolkata.
The questionnaire happened to reach those guests who have prior experience of staying at
other luxury hotels as well apart from ITC Sonar in Kolkata (see Appendices A and B for
Out of the 250 questionnaires, 230 were usable and valid for analysis and 30 have to
be dropped due to incomplete response.
A percentage distribution was carried out from the questionnaires acquired in order to
come to the findings which have been stated in the following section.
The researcher took a sample size of around 200 guests who visited and stayed in the
hotel during a period of two months using a random sampling method. The result is
surprisingly encouraging. More than 41% of the guests agreed to the fact that scent was
actually a very key factor which enhanced their ‘in-stay’ experience during their period
of stay. They felt much more relaxed and rejuvenated. More than 85% of the customers
committed in making a repeat visit to the ITC Sonar Luxury Hotel collection in Kolkata.
More than 43% of the customers told that ITC Sonar is the first name that hits their mind
when they think about staying at a star category hotel. Almost as good as 52% guests
suggested that scent within the hotel premises took more attention than any other sensory
Figure 1 Key influencing factors that play an important role for the in-stay experience at ITC
Sonar (see online version for colours)
Figure 2 Demonstration of guests considering a repeat visit at ITC Sonar (see online version
202 S. Chatterjee
Figure 3 Depiction of which hotel comes in the minds of the customers while preferring to stay
in a star category hotel (see online version for colours)
Figure 4 Preference of scent as a key sensory attribute to any other service attributes while
staying in a hotel (see online version for colours)
6 Suggestions and recommendations
The Indian hospitality industry is yet to utilise the hugely potential scent branding
(Lindstrom, 2005). Though there are a few organisations that are currently using scent
branding, a major chunk of the hotel industry is yet to understand the power of olfactory
branding on a serious note (Mattila and Wirtz, 2001).
ITC Sonar could think about introducing two or three more aromas for their hotel
apart from their signature brand ‘white tea’ so that customers could actually experience a
wonderful stay (Morrin and Ratneshwar, 2000). What happens in the process is that the
guests could build a loyalty with the brand and whenever they think of staying in a hotel
in the Kolkata region, ITC Sonar comes on their mind (Spangenberg et al., 1996).
To date, the exploration of olfactory branding for the Indian hospitality sector is very
limited. However, the scope for utilising this powerful branding strategy is unparallel.
The Indian hotels have also started trying to apply the essence of scent branding. I have
tried to provide suggestions for ITC Sonar on how to explore this unique strategy in
terms of implementing smell in the hospitality industry and create a brand niche.
Through successful implementation of scent branding could ITC Sonar actually prove to
be a clear winner in the luxury hotel segment.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to ITC Sonar Luxury Collection Hotel,
Kolkata, and all their staff members for being so nice and helpful, for providing
information needed to frame the research paper. I also thank the guests at ITC Sonar who
sincerely helped me fill out the questionnaire. I would like to thank my professional
colleagues as well for providing me constant support.
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Vol. 3, pp.289–296.
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product evaluations’, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 70, pp.32–43.
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Clegg, A. (2006) ‘Senses cue brand recognition’, Bloomberg Businessweek, 14 March. Available
online at: http://www.brandchannel.com/features_effect.asp?pf_id=304 (accessed on 6 May
Donovan, R. and Rossiter, J. (1982) ‘Store atmosphere: an environmental psychology approach’,
Journal of Retailing, Vol. 58, pp.34–57.
Engen, T. (1982) The Perception of Odors, Academic Press, New York.
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sensory-branding-unleashed/#.VCkeK2eSxnO (accessed on November 2013).
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204 S. Chatterjee
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Appendix A: Questionnaire for ITC Sonar, Kolkata
Please mark the correct answer with Bold Font
1 ITC Sonar is using marketing techniques (as music, scent) to promote service and
Not at all (1) 2 3 4 5 (very much)
2 Which sense are stimulated most with these branding techniques?
Sight (light, colour, decor)
Hearing (music, sound)
Touch (consumers can touch the product)
Taste (consumers can taste the product)
Smell (perfumes, odours, fragrance)
3 ITC Sonar is aware of sensory branding concepts?
1 2 3 4 5
4 ITC Sonar is aware of scent branding concepts?
1 2 3 4 5
5 ITC Sonar is using fragrance or perfumes inside the Hotel?
6 If ‘No’, why? (You can choose more than one option)
i) It is too expensive
ii) It is too difficult to use
iii) I don’t find it that interesting
iv) I am not aware of this practice so I never thought of using it
v) Others (please specify)
7 Do you agree with the following statements?
a) ITC Sonar is using fragrance to create an atmosphere
1 (Totally disagree) 2 3 4 5 (Totally agree)
b) ITC Sonar is using fragrance to make people enter the Hotel
1 2 3 4 5
c) ITC Sonar is using fragrance to reinforce the brand image
1 2 3 4 5
d) ITC Sonar is using fragrance to create a unique ‘in-stay’ experience
1 2 3 4 5
e) ITC Sonar is using fragrance so that customers can differentiate between brands
1 2 3 4 5
206 S. Chatterjee
Appendix B: Questionnaire for guests staying at ITC Sonar Kolkata
Please mark the correct answer with Bold Font
1 Which category below includes your age?
20–25, 25–35, 35–45, 45-55, >55
2 What is your Gender?
3 What is your monthly salary?
<10 K, 10–20K, 20–30K, 30–40K, >40K
4 In a month how much time do you spend on travelling and staying at a hotel?
<5 days, 5–10 days, 10–15days, 15–20 days, >20 days
5 When do you last remember visiting a hotel with strong aroma?
Never, Less Frequent, frequent, Very Frequent, Always
6 When have you last smelt a brand?
Never, Within the last one year, Last month, Within last few days, Very Often
7 Do you enjoy staying at ITC Sonar hotel under aromatic conditions?
8 Do you believe that you would prefer to stay in a hotel which emits strong
9 Do you believe that you would be able to differentiate a brand with strong fragrance?
10 Do you believe that ITC Sonar would be able to create a niche with their Scent