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How Air Conditioning is Used as a Marketing Tool


The smell of freshly baked cookies as you walk by Mrs. Fields. The deliciously doughy scent coming from Auntie Anne’s. The irresistible aroma of Cinnabon. One minute, you’re walking through one of Austin’s many malls – not hungry – the next, you’re holding a giant cinnamon roll. Sound familiar?

These are examples of scent marketing – diffusing an artificial, amplified version of a business’ signature scent through heating and air conditioning vents in order to lure customers to the counter.

This is legal and, as you know if you’ve ever been to a mall, very common. But what about when it’s just the air itself that’s the marketing? Have you ever been walking by a shop or restaurant in the heat of summer, felt a refreshing blast of conditioned air and thought – maybe it’d be nice to stop in and cool off?

Just like the overwhelming smell of lotions and soaps emanating from Bath & Body Works, this is not an accident. It has become commonplace for shops and restaurants to blast pedestrians with conditioned air as they walk by in hopes that the promise of greater comfort will bring them inside to open their pocketbooks.

The strategy may or may not be highly effective for attracting customers, but it’s certainly effective for wasting energy. That’s why, starting July 1, New York City is making this practice illegal. The law, which was passed in October 2015 after a record-setting number of 80-degree days, will require businesses to keep their doors and windows closed while their air conditioners are running. Owners will now face fines ranging from $250 to $1,000 for noncompliance.

Ahead of the law’s passing, the state’s Department of Consumer Affairs launched a street and social media campaign (#BeCoolSaveFuel) to get city residents and businesses on board with the change. While many business owners proudly displayed the clever “Shut the front door!” signs provided to them by the campaign’s volunteers, others feel that the government has overstepped and is interfering with their ability to grow their businesses. They simply look at the additional utility costs as a marketing expense, much like other businesses invest in scent marketing.

While concerns about energy conservation and environmental impact were at the heart of the new law, concerns have also been raised about the potential health impacts of manufactured smells (some of which we discussed in a recent post) used in scent marketing.

In 2010, a national coalition of health and environmental organizations, known as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, commissioned an independent laboratory to test 17 brand-name fragranced products. One of these products was Fierce cologne, the signature fragrance of Abercrombie & Fitch’s scent marketing campaign. If you’ve ever been within 50 feet of the entrance of an Abercrombie, you’ve most likely caught a strong whiff of it.


According to the testing, the results of which were published in a study titled “Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance,” Fierce contains eight chemicals known to cause a variety of allergic reactions, including headaches, contact dermatitis (itching as a result of contact), wheezing, and asthma. In 2009, the Journal of Environmental Health published a peer-reviewed paper stating that nearly a third of the population reports these negative reactions to fragranced products. The testing also showed that Fierce contained diethyl phthalate, which human studies have linked to reproductive damage in men.

Marketing with scented air remains legal in New York City, but marketing outdoors with conditioned air does not. Do you think that businesses should be allowed to use scents and air conditioning as marketing tools? Do you think that Austin should pass a similar law? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment on the Efficient Air Conditioning & Electric Facebook page!







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