Ambient Scenting Revealed: Businesses Pump Fragrances to Encourage you to Spend $$$

I recently bought a purse from a large name department store. The bag is banished to the guest bedroom because it reeks. It will air out there for a month or so. This purse has been soaking in the scents of its store for a while. Many stores are scenting their air with fragrances.

This can be done by large units in air conditioning systems or small motion controlled units hiding under a shelf on a promotional display. There are a lot of companies out there delivering a myriad of devices and smells to businesses, this marketing technique is called ambient scenting and it’s taking off.

These fragrance pumping devices are found in stores, hotels, casinos, cruise ships and even public buildings. They may be trying to mask an unpleasant odor or they may be trying to seduce you into spending more of your money. They may also be making you sick, but more on that later.

Shopping Malls: ripe with ambient scenting

The concept is to use smells to create brand recognition. A signature scent that may evoke certain emotions or memories. My friend Kelly says that Cover Girl powder has a unique scent to it and when she smells it she instantly recalls Cover Girl and the positive feelings she has towards their makeup. Companies are taking scent branding beyond their products and are using it in their stores and promotional displays.

Most people know that the popular teen clothing store, Abercrombie & Fitch keeps their stores smelling of their cologne, Abercrombie’s Fierce. If you walk into one of these stores you will be greeted by their signature scent.

Scent Air, an ambient scenting company, boasts on their website about some of their customers.

  • Sony Style Stores – a signature fragrance of  “citrus, vanilla and other secret ingredients”
  • Westin Hotels & Resorts – entrances use a white tea fragrance
  • Four Points by Sheraton Hotels – lobby and common areas smells of “Pinwheels in the Breeze”, a Yankee Candle designed signature scent
  • Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino – Uses a HVAC system to pump “Coconut Spice” through 135,000 square feet
  • Bloomingdale’s–  Baby Department smells like baby powder, coconut in the swimsuit section, and Lilac fragrance in Lingerie. Seasonal scents like chocolate, pine and sugar cookies waft there as well.
  • Hard Rock Hotel Universal Orlando – Smell of “Ocean” in the lobby and “sugar cookie” and “waffle cone” near the ice cream shop.
  • Celebration Health MRI facility – smells of “ocean” and “coconut” to relax patients receiving MRI’s.

Scent air offers many ways to distribute fragrances from devices that can be hooked up to large building air conditioning systems with intensity controls to point of purchase sprayers that can be mounted on a shelf display and be triggered by motion sensors. Scent air is so high-tech they custom make units large enough for theme parks and the military to use in simulation training. They even created scent distribution devices for street billboards. Scent air is just one of many companies offering ambient scenting devices.

Another company named Prolitec created scents for a large retailer in Europe comparable to Wal-Mart. They created a “Wine Cellar” scent for the wine section and “Nature After Rain” for the checkout line. For hotels, Prolitec claims it turned a pool’s chlorine smell into fresh flowers and masked bad tobacco and moldy odor. Prolitec also supplies a major casino in the Southeast with ambient scenting to hide tobacco smells there. Prolitec suggests its products to cruise ships, malls, fitness centers, schools, health care facilities, theatres, and airports. Here are some of Prolitec’s clients they have listed on their website…

  • Bebe
  • Abercrombie & Fitch
  • Hollister
  • Samsung
  • Diane Von Furstenberg
  • Hilton
  • InterContinental
  • Sofitel
  • The Breakers
  • Palm Beach
  • MGM Grand Hotel & Casino
  • Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
  • Bellagio
  • Harrah’s
  • Bliss Spa
  • GE Healthcare
  • Lifeline Fitness
  • Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
  • Henry County Health Center

Event planners may contact another scenting company called Scentevents for their parties. They have quite a list of events on their website which they provided this service.  It ranges from weddings to movie premieres to theme parks to museums. They carry a wide range of scents including crayons, rotten fish, fresh-cut grass and bubble gum.

Ambient scenting may just be an interesting marketing technique to most people but it can make some sick. Many people suffer from allergies, asthma, migraine headaches and multiple chemical sensitivities. All of these can be triggered or made worse by fragrances. When someone walks into an establishment there is no way of knowing whether fragrances are being pumped through the air.

I get headaches triggered by fragrances. Trips to certain businesses mean I will be popping Excedrin before the afternoon is over. I thought it was probably the fragrances of the other people in the store but now I suspect it has to do with the fragrances these stores are using. I am now a lot more savvy to this and avoid those stores. I wonder if these businesses even give consideration to people like me. Do they think about the customers they might be losing because their marketing technique makes them ill?

I’m not saying all scents are evil. I enjoy the vanilla wafting through the air from Ben N Jerry ice cream shops. That fragrance does not give me headaches, maybe it’s just natural vanilla?

If you are like me and suspect an establishment is using a fragrance that is making you sick, please speak up. Tell the manager. Write the corporation. That business would most likely want to know and if enough people complain perhaps it will create change.

And for those businesses using Ambient Scenting, it would be nice if you disclosed it somehow. A sticker in your storefront window perhaps or a disclaimer on your website. I would love to know before I plan a cruise or book a night at a hotel whether or not they use this kind of scenting. I know this will likely never happen but it really should.

Ambient Scenting is widespread, don’t take my word for it…. here are some links to check out and as always your comments are welcome.

If you want to know more about how fragrances can affect your health, how prevalent scents are in our society, or how to have a fragrance free lifestyle please browse other articles on this blog “Smell Inc. The Perfuming of America”.


27 responses to “Ambient Scenting Revealed: Businesses Pump Fragrances to Encourage you to Spend $$$

  1. Thanks for shedding light on this!

  2. Thanks for the information I have had migrains that are getting more frequent and just had the wife stop using a sented dish saop. The Fall is the worst for me in the stores as they bring out the cinomin brooms. I have noticed my trips to Wal-mart have been followed by a need for medication. Just about at my wits end with this battle.

  3. Excellent post. One word of caution: if you’re going to complain, do it only to the manager of the store. It’s not always under their control, as in the case of shared air conditioning systems. I encountered this once and later realized that it was actually the fragrance coming from Victoria’s Secret – which has its own branded scent. Caused some trouble for a shop owner.

  4. Hi thanks for a good article. I also find this very important since I got asthma. Unfortunately it is not only in America it has become popular with scent branding, but also in Scandinavia. We are many over here also that suffer from scents. Keep up the good work. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Distribute fragrances | Greenservicegu

  6. I just wanted to say thank you. I have written a number of casinos
    and even the surgeon general, about this and also wrote to a reporter
    of USA News. Only got respones from some of the casions saying
    they are sorry and yes they do perfume the air. Thanks again for
    your websight.

  7. I walked into the high rise I work in and for the first time…scent throughout!!! Breathing immediately shallow. And, just as I thought, maintenance tells me they’re pumping scent into the air conditining unit(s) to mask sewer smell. My gods, when is this assault going to end?!

  8. I am starting a small retail business soon and wanted a pleasant and non-offensive smell to the store. Any suggestions for something that wouldn’t trigger peoples sensitivities? I was even thinking just something over the counter like Glades.

  9. Thank you for considering this issue in your shop. Please don’t use Glades. I would try something natural and food based, like vanilla. Aerosols can be very irritating and I find that most scented candles seem to be overpowering. I don’t think anyone would ever walk into your store and say “oh it doesn’t smell like flowers so I’m not going to shop here…. but on the other hand if it’s too overpowering with smells you may have clients exiting as fast as they can.”

  10. Please….let’s get together and fight. Public awareness is crucial on this topic. There are personal damages. No one should get a headache or worse from entering any facility. Our noses are a defense mechanism. What our nose smells keep us from harm; molds, smoke,chemical burns, etc. Scent is a molecular process read by the brain; a biochemical message picked up by our bloodstream via small capellaries in the nose and transported to the brain. Thus, these ‘scents’ are taken into our bodies. In addition, more and more medications will become available for transdermal administration. It is known that our skin also transmits chemicals to the bloodstream. ‘Wearing’ these scents has potential damaging effects. Let’s take on a ‘chemical warfare for our own good’ now. These chemicals, at the very least, cause severe headache. How does that affect your quality of life? When you bought that purse did you expect it to make you sick? Prolitec Inc is one of those companies selling fragrance strategies. And Goodwill Industries is a large client of that corporation.

  11. My daughter is sensitive to odors and uses this on low setting.

    This works well also! I just got a fantastic devise that totally cleaned and freshened my house with 4 dogs.

    It completely eliminated dog smell within 1 hour! Safe and no chemicals or filters. Great for hotel rooms and rental cars too!

  12. I like the fragrances and think the people complaining are just pointing fingers for their own problems and using fragrances as scapegoats. It’s just a glorified excuse.

  13. You all are a bunch of slap jaw pansies. Why don’t you find something real to complain about. If you don’t like the way Victoria’s smells, go somewhere else. Also there are plenty of casinos that will be happy to take your money that don’t treat their air.

  14. It would be beneficial to learn the chemistry involved in these fragrances. Many have noted “use more natural!” but natural fragrance components cause just as much reaction as synthetics! This is a fact not many people are aware of.

  15. Been dealing with this issue for 2 years now. I decided to get aggressive about the issue since getting quite ill, and have involved not only my family doctor, but an allergist, a dermatologist, and a pulmonologist. I am told it is a true allergic reaction to the chemicals (I had previously just thought of it as chemical sensitivity). Unfortunately, unlike ragweed or other allergens, it is not possible to prevent these reactions in advance because each scent contains different chemicals. And finding the exact chemicals in a fragrance is difficult because:
    1. They do not have to be FDA approved
    2. They are considered ‘trade secrets’ and are, therefore, secret

    My issue has gotten worse over time and has included migraine, rash, eye swelling, sore red throat, having my throat close in, reflux, coughing, chest pain, abdominal pain, dizziness, and vomiting, to name a few. Been to the ER 4 times–always my kidney and liver values are off. This stuff has to filter through your body once you breath or absorb it in. The highlight was a ‘mass’ on the outside of my lung that turned out to be a very enlarged lymph node (maxed out my deductible finding that out).

    Things that help: staying out of the stores. Calling or speaking to the store managers. Zyrtec+Sudafed every day (individually, to get more antihistamine than the combo), Pepcid AC which is another type of antihistamine (who knew?), prescription creams and ointments for the rash–traimcinolone, a lot of Tums for the reflux. And, because I live in a condo and get the stuff in from my neighbors’ candles, plug-ins, and everything else, I have two air purifiers. A company called IQ Air makes one that filters small particles (like chemicals) and it helps greatly in my home.

    Also, there is this:
    It might help in finding the name of a chemical or determining how harmful it is or what to do about it.

    • Thank you for all your responses. Sounds like you are affected more seriously than I am. I hope things get better for you. I love that you are assertive about talking to store managers and letting others know about your condition. We have to educate others. Please keep in touch and continue fighting for fragrance free.

  16. i had a terrible reaction after going into a assisted living facility where scentair had been installed. took me three weeks to get over it and my allergist and other doctors told me to stay away, but how do we stay away when it is now being pumped into many places. Why is this legal in places where the public can go and why are there not warnings on these establishments warning those of us with allergies to be warned?

  17. Every time someone posts that they have horrible reactions to ambient scenting, to be honest, it’s usually just a placebo effect aka its in your head. These companies have spent MILLIONS to get the ratings/patents/standards/certifications that they have. Prolitec which has been brought up multiple times in this forum uses only hypoallergenic scents. What does that mean? It doesn’t trigger allergies. End of story. You cant sell a product as hypoallergenic unless it is. Not only are their scents hypoallergenic, they’re 100X below the allergy threshold and that is not an exaggeration. Why do I know this? Because I brought Prolitec into my business to enhance patient comfort as I work in the healthcare industry. Not only am I in the healthcare industry, I am in the OB/GYN field. If ALL my pregnant patients are fine, so are you. These systems are used in several hospitals around the US/World. Therefore, it makes most of you look whiney. The statistics behind people who have real reactions to these systems is probably unmeasurable because to have an allergy triggered at a level 100 times below OSHA standards means you probably shouldn’t leave your houses….ever. Now in everyone’s defense, some of these companies using the machines turn the scent up past Prolitec’s recommendations. That is on the company, not Prolitec. These forums are giving Prolitec a bad name and that’s silly. After all, Abercrombie finally turned their scent down to a more appropriate level, that was the company’s choice, not Prolitec. My point is, you need to voice your concern to the company instead of out in the public because you will never get a change this way because you have no argument. The problem isn’t with the scenting companies, its with the companies using the machines above manufacturer guidelines. Talk to them, voice your concern! I 100% support everyone doing that! Hope this post wasn’t too harsh, I just took hours and hours to make sure this system is safe for my patients. By the way, the MSDS sheets are available online, they’re not trade secrets. You just need to know where to look. I’ve taken a look, the ingredients everyone claims are in them aren’t.

    • To OBMD614
      I cannot believe your ignorance.
      are you a shill for the company?
      My goodness.
      A doctor who assaults patients with unwanted scents?
      You say you have looked at the ingredients?
      Well they do not have to be disclosed.
      Let’s we the list you have.
      You do the understand synergistic effect?

      The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
      It’s a shame people like you do not honor their Hippocratic Oath
      First do No Harm!

  18. placebo effect?? really – well i live in NYC and was never sick till i got near the scent air machines at my dads place and guess what they removed the machines because his doctor wrote a note… thank god now his throat is ok and i can visit- the people who worked there thanked me telling me they hated the stuff and felt sick from it and thankful it is gone. its disgusting to do this to people-

  19. MCS is not a placebo or in your head. MAN, WOULD LOVE for idiots who say that crap to get this horrible allergy. I’ve trained to be a UFC fighter. can prob beat the crap out of everybody on here, easily. dont tell me the headaches, bloody noses and nausea I get from axe colonge or candles or plug ins is in my head. its from inconsiderate people wearing/using poison so much that others get overloaded. Stores & Medical places should be 100% scent free. whats wrong with people that they have to wear colonge perfume EVERYWHERE they go?

  20. I’m happy that the fragrance emitters in a westin lobby and their gym were set so strong that it’s effect on giving me a headache were very clearly from their fragrance machines. That opened my eyes and I see that I have been getting headaches in bed bath and beyond, Sheraton lobby, westin lobby the detergent aisle in the grocery store eat…. and now know to stay away from fragranced establishments as if they were smoking sections in an airplane until this assault can be regulated and fresh chemical-free air returned like the post smoke era air should be.

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