Wo bleibt der Duft? A new whiff of politics?

In the ongoing election campaign in the German state of Bavaria the neoliberal FDP tries to sell the political agenda with the whiff of a new car scent and triggers some controversy. What is “aseptic” about it as the FAZ argues? Is it authentic? Or is this a new step of fake politics? 

“Fresh Bavaria” is the slogan the Free Democrats use in their ongoing campaign. Apparently, the campaign is not about a political program.  Instead “fresh” is attracting people like cars in commercials. What products do you associate with “fresh”? Washing powder? Soap? A deodorant?

The aestheticization & sensualization of politics

In advertising the attribute “fresh” is actually commonly used to refer to anything highly approved by someone. The slogan signals above all an experiential and sensual message. The slogan as well as the visual design of the poster clearly demonstrates the aestheticization of politics.  The slogan even calls for further references to the sense of smell – an unusual move. But what is political about new car scent?

The scent of a new car is a cultural icon that signifies “happiness” as Don Draper, the eloquent creative director in Mad Men, coined it: “Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.”


Today, new car scent (“Neuwagengeruch”) is even sold as a stand-alone spray and widely used to revitalize and preserve the fresh aura of a new car as well as often to hoke a used car.

The underlying premise is simple: What smells good is good! This morality of smell has been an effective force throughout history. In fact, odors have always been a significant component of our moral construction of reality. Accordingly, the campaign appeals to scent as the potent wizard.

Yet, consumers often experience a new car scent as a manipulative force. The might even remember the first whiff creating the image of a new car that later turns out to be older than expected. In other words, new car scent is also widely associated with a faking device. It is this ambivalence that complicates any open reference to the sense of smell.

New Car Scent – not so fresh!

Moreover, the age of the happy new car scent is probably over. We have frequently discussed the car as an olfactory artifact. And a few weeks ago we ran an interactive workshop with the research & development team of a major automotive company on car smells. Why? In China’s growing car market odors currently attract management attention as the customers’ top concern ahead of engine issues, road noise or fuel consumption. Chinese consumers cannot stand the off-gassing of synthetic materials that are widely used in the production of modern automobiles. What used to be the magic of the new car scent seriously challenges product developers all over the world today!

In other words new car scent is not as fresh as the campaign hopes for. It certainly remains open how the electorate eventually makes sense of this smellshot (this is how we call visuals that deal with smelly stuff on this website) in the political arena.

DoAGSegXgAAwrOhScent your political agenda now!

In any case however, it would be wonderful, if the Free Democrats had the guts to consider even a step further: Why not developing a New Bavaria Scent? Why not using scent samples to actually demonstrate “Fresh Bavaria” to electorate?  Why not using scent as a communication medium in the political campaign?

Dear Mr Hagen, when turning politics into a consumer product do it with a whiff of freshness! Otherwise it is hardly more than empty rhetoric.

We live in an age of ephemerality. Thus, at Scent Culture Institute we even expect everything to become like perfume (as Brian Eno once noticed)…

Scent your political agenda now!

Some posts on cars as olfactory artifacts:

Odorama at Mediamatic in Amsterdam on car smells mediamatic

Epistemology of car smells

Essay on car as an olfactory artifact

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