Moviegoing seems to be living in the past these days, as both 3-D and large format projection have become attractions at mainstream cinemas again, just as they were half a century ago. Of course, there are updated differences -- the new 3-D is digital and now employs glasses that don't give us headaches, and the large format presentation, IMAX (which is actually almost 40 years old and is technically not really similar at all to the Cinemascope, Cinerama, VistaVision, etc., which were used in the 1950s), is finally separating itself from its usual museum-set association to move into more multiplexes and offer more blockbusters, like the popcorns and sodas, appropriately super-sized.
So where is the return of that other, less successful, less fondly remembered novelty also implemented in desperate times to woo audiences away from their television? You know, that ridiculous idea that's so unappealing that it's a wonder it was even allowed to enter public awareness, let alone cement itself undeservedly onto the timeline of significant moments in film history. Smell-O-Vision. Where is the return of Smell-O-Vision?
If you really want to know, it's in Germany, and it's now called Cinescent. But unlike 3-D and IMAX (and, of course, IMAX 3-D), it's not once again being utilized in feature film exhibition. Instead, it's being employed by the advertising industry, though still solely in cinemas. I know, it's your worst nightmare. Mine too. It's already more than enough that commercials are being shown in movie theaters and that they're amplified so much that we can hardly talk above the sound of them. Now ads are going to permeate another of our senses, possibly the worst one to be messed with when sitting down with a delicious snack from the concession stand. Suddenly that popcorn takes like Dove soap and that cola tastes like Nivea sun cream. Yuck.
The Nivea product was actually the first to be advertised through Cinescent, which apparently works as simply as having scent oils blown in via air conditioning vents. The initial 60-second spot features a simple beach scene on screen and the odor of Nivea brand sun cream flowing through the auditorium at about the moment the product's logo appears, along with the slogan "Nivea. The scent of summer." The ad, which is being used to test Cinescent's technology in select European cinemas, is reportedly a success. Moviegoers who experienced the ad with the scent recalled the product 515% better than moviegoers who saw the ad without the scent included.
Of course, remembering an ad isn't necessarily a positive thing. Obviously if you're sitting in a movie theater and suddenly you smell sun cream and, like me, you hate the scent of sun cream, you're going to negatively recall the product. And the next time you go to the movies you'll probably go to another cinema, one where your popcorn tastes like popcorn. Yet despite the seemingly crystal-clear downside to something like scented commercials, the results of Cinescent's Nivea tests reportedly have cinemas across Europe, and possibly in Dubai, interested in using the technology. According to Advertising Age, one UK ad sales company is looking to bring scented ads for sun cream, bread, coffee, perfume, air fresheners, chocolate, and automobiles to British cinemas. For understandable reasons, things like diapers and barbecues will likely not make their way into Cinescent's roster (you've probably already smelled soiled Huggies in the theater, but just imagine how terrible the scent of a smoky grill would be on a crowded Friday night).
Surprisingly, I haven't seen any suggestions for food products or restaurants to advertise through Cinescent. Not to encourage this "endorphin branding," as the practice has recently been labeled, but that would be the best idea. Especially with the kinds of foods available at the concession stand. Does Coca-Cola have a notable scent? How about fried chicken? Popeyes could run a scented ad, which will have you running to the lobby for some chicken fingers, which will actually be gross enough that you'll think about how you really want Popeyes' chicken instead. Double the reason for ad recall! Unfortunately there are many of us who hate when fellow moviegoers have strong-smelling chicken, hot dogs, pizza, etc. (please, please nobody turn those pre-show slide ads for Chinese buffets into Cinescent spots. I'll probably puke).
Even the smell of popcorn at the movies can be distracting at times. I'm one of the biggest popcorn lovers of all time, and I've had my issues with the odor. For example: I go to a number of press screenings at NYC's Film Forum, a cinema prized for popping some of the best corn in the city. Unfortunately, the screenings are early in the morning, when the theater, and therefore the concession stand, isn't yet open. But halfway through the movie, each and every time, the smell of popcorn enters the auditorium, as the staff prepares for opening. And for at least a few seconds I lose focus (fortunately I haven't missed any substantial plot points yet). Then, when the screening is finished, I come very, very close to buying a bag of corn on my way out. Luckily, I have just enough will power not to.
I assume I don't really need to ask, but would any of you be OK with Cinescent's ads being introduced to your local theatre? And if so, what kinds of products would be acceptable to be marketed through their odor? Apparently Cinescent's technology is subtle enough not to significantly affect allergies and other irritations, but for it to work properly, it would have to be noticeable enough to get on a lot of our nerves. One thing I'm waiting for, though, is a movie trailer marketed with Cinescent technology. I bet Pineapple Express would have had a popular ad. I must again warn advertisers, though, that smoke smell is not a good idea. No marketing blockbusters with scent-fortified explosion scenes. Bad strategy.