Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Memories are made of this

Music creates memories. Rich Robinson wrote about this magic in a recent post and of course he’s right. All five of our senses are packed-up and waiting at the door to send us back to our past. I love music, but for me the most evocative of the senses is smell. Maybe it was my early days working in the Middle East that gave this sense such a workout. It’s been overdeveloped ever since. In the bazaar, you can catch literally hundreds of scents, from spices and perfumes to yeast and onion to smoldering wood and beaten metal. And yes, beaten metal does have a very distinctive fragrance. It is harsh and inhaled as much as smelt. When I was working on the first Lovemarks book and developing the idea of sensuality, I was astonished to learn that there are around 400,000 recognizable odors. This was way beyond what I’d ever expected. Immediately, I realized what an untapped storehouse of potential this was for innovation in every field you could think of. Fantastic new products, a new attitude in the store, another dimension to service, a fresh capability to infuse into entertainment choices.

Now I’m finding that these intuitive ideas are being backed up. Big time. Scientists are finding that our sense of smell brings up our oldest, rarest and most vivid memories. Smell was a front-line flight or fight indicator so it had to get its message across fast. Apparently it did this for our ancient ancestors (and still does it for us) by bypassing consciousness and heading straight to, you’ve got it, the emotional part of the brain. Getting to the bottom of this won Richard Axel and Linda B. Buck a Nobel Prize in 2004 (if we got to vote on Nobel Prizes, they’d have mine). It seems to me that as we spend more time with our screens, the senses become more important as physical, real, open, direct, emotional connection points. It also becomes important to truly understand what they offer. This deep understanding becomes crucial when you also think about how (relatively) narrowband a sense like smell is. It is amazingly sensitive and overwhelmed real fast. The phrase "fragrance fatigue" says it all. When everything has fragrance, we can’t distinguish between them and any possibility of differentiation is lost. Just think of running the department store gauntlet. Great fragrance experiences demand focus, care and attention. A bakery. A field of lavender in flower. A superb Burgundy.