Visual representations of smell are one of the core themes of our presence on Instagram: Wheel, circle, and pie have recently appeared as recurring and influential visual metaphors. The fragrance wheel created by Michael Edwards is perhaps the most prominent example these days. But the history of visualizations demonstrates that this is only one example out of many.  The visual metaphor of the circle or the wheel has been used to classify urine smells. The colour, smell, and even taste of urine was used to both identify particular illnesses and provide patient prognoses, from Hippocrates to the Victorian era. The practice, called uroscopy or uromancy, was, according to the Doctor’s Review, “once the number-one way to diagnose disease — and predict the future”.

The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep Database is a prominent go-to for all things health when it comes to cosmetics. Last February, Unilever joined this fragrance disclosure scheme. Accordingly, Unilever announced a bold new initiative to provide detailed information on fragrance ingredients for all products in its multibillion-dollar portfolio of personal care brands, including Dove, Noxzema, Lever 2000 and NEXXUS. The announcement was characterized as a major move that could dramatically alter the personal care and fragrance markets.

Sensory and scent-marketing highlight how the sense of smell affects our everyday purchasing decisions. Accordingly, one expects an abundance of scented products in contemporary consumer culture. Yet, we can also witness an increasing awareness of multiple chemical sensitivities that might promote an opposite trend. This is the commercial context of a recent thesis submitted in the BBA International Program at Bern University of Applied Sciences by Jennifer Zwyer and supervised by Claus Noppeney: How prevalent is the sense of smell in today’s consumer culture? How prevalent are scented products on the shelf in supermarkets today? How openly is the olfactory status communicated to the consumer? Verbally? Visually?

The common slogan “dress for success” underlines the wide-held view that what you wear matters in everyday life. It originates in Erving Goffman’s studies on the social world as a stage. Accordingly, individuals interact as performers. In the context of management and organization studies this mode of interaction has later been labeled as “impression management”. It is obvious that workplace attire is used to manage the impressions of others. Studies show that women are more interested in clothing and experience more “appearance labor” when compared to men.*

Individuals who want to be successful in today’s career landscape have to go beyond solid performance and strong results; personal branding is an increasingly important factor as well. Impression management plays a key role in today’s professional world, and one’s olfactory appearance is an integral part thereof. Which strategies and intentions one wants to achieve with personal scent, however, have only been researched casually, at best, so far.

Thus, the leading German newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, recently discussed the use of certain perfumes by representatives of a political youth organization. What message does a user of Tommy Hilfiger perfume want to convey? According to the FAZ this young politician wants to identify himself as a performance oriented achiever who spends his money on clothes that are distinctly designed for this social group.