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Inside the Aziza townhouse for sale in the uptown area of Houston is the smell of apple pie baking in the oven, but there is no oven and there is no pie.
The scent is blowing out of a machine.
Aziza home builders figure the place will appeal more to a buyer if it feels like home, and nothing says home like apple pie.
More businesses are relying on scent marketing to sell products and brand themselves.
"They can make an orange smell more like an orange than an orange does," said Doug Hope, vice president of Global Shop, a yearly store-design trade show.
Scent is becoming "the elixir of branding", he said, because it has the power to trigger memory and potentially create a more pleasant customer experience.
The hotel and casino industries already embrace scent marketing, and retail stores are sniffing it out.
ScentAndrea, based in Santa Barbara, California, plans to bring into grocery and convenience stores something called Smellovision to broadcast smell-enhanced video ads on flat-screen TVs.
Some marketing analysts say scent marketing is about to explode, while others caution that it has limits, noting that not all retail environments are conducive and not all consumers will like it.
Sony Style stores feature a "Season's Greetings" gingerbread scent during the holidays.
Westin Hotel lobbies have their own signature scent called White Tea, a blend of green tea, geranium, ivy, cedar and freesia.
ScentAir supplies the Westin's customised aroma and machines to disperse it.
Similar to plug-in air fresheners, the ScentAir machine has been "scaled up dramatically" and the company can customise thousands of aromas, said chief executive David Van Epps.
Westin pays ScentAir less than $100 a month for each machine and carries three to five machines a hotel, Van Epps said.
Westin also sells a retail product, White Tea by Westin Collection, featuring the same scent housed in a soy candle, room oil diffuser and potpourri.
In September, ScentAir, which has a contract with Aziza and other home builders in the area, opened a Houston office focused on the residential market and charges about $40 a month a machine.
While a number of hotels have embraced scent marketing, it remains to be seen how it will be accepted in other industries, said Rachel Herz, visiting professor of psychiatry and human behaviour at Brown University Medical School.
Scent marketing does have potential because the sense of smell "triggers memories that are more emotional and more evocative and feel more viscerally real than any other sense", but it has its limits.
She said the California Milk Processor Board recently placed aromatic strips releasing the aroma of fresh chocolate cookies at a bus stops.
The next day the Municipal Transportation Agency made the commission remove the strips because it hadn't been properly notified and the smell was unsettling to riders, Herz said.
The incident demonstrates that "context is a powerful determinant of how consumers will respond".
"At a bus stop, people are wary. It's an unknown."
In a retail environment, it's more likely to get a positive response, she said.
Thomas Pink, a retailer of shirts and blouses, uses the scent of line-dried linens created by AromaSys of St Paul. To be effective, the scent should have a logical connection to the product, said Herz. The smell of baking cookies wouldn't work as well in a clothing store, she said.
A recent study by the marketing department at West Chester University found that smell influences time perception. Good smells caused people to underestimate the time they spent shopping, while a bad smell did the opposite.
The American Lung Association has had complaints about scented stores because some aromas have bothered asthma sufferers and people sensitive to chemicals.
If AromaSys' business is any indication, scent marketing is taking off. It sold 120 systems last year and 600 this year.
AromaSys sells a system that distributes aroma through a building's air-conditioning ducts. - New York Times