The science and magic of olfaction

A recent event of the series “Arte in Azienda” offered an exploration of the sense of smell at the Università della Svizzera italiana in Lugano. The aim was to get the community and students involved in a sensory experience that calls into question the meanings of smell in consumer culture, communication, and everyday life.

The workshop was part of the series “Arte in Azienda”, promoted by USI Faculty of Communication Sciences within the activities of the Master in Corporate Communication and the Master in Marketing and Transformative Economy. In fact, the bookings for the workshop exceeded the organizer’s expectations by far. All in all, more than 70 people from the university as well as from the city participated and enjoyed the engaging and informative session.

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Wednesday October 24, 6pm at ex Asilo Ciani in Lugano, the expert in the culture of smell Claus Noppeney will bring the audience to experience hands on, and through their noses, how smell is connected to memories, how it affects our desires, and how it reflects our representations of power.

Here is the flyer and an expanded teaser:

The sense of smell has powerful effects on human cognition, emotions, and states of well-being. At the same, the air we breathe today is beyond the “natural” with the human hand impacting not only on its pollution or temperature, but also on its smell. This makes the question of air “design” and the sense of smell relevant also for marketing and communication. The workshop drags participants in a sensorial experience that questions the meanings of olfaction in today’s consumer culture and organizational life.

“Every quarter of an hour the prevailing perfume of the room was automatically changed. (…) ‘We try,’ explained the nurse (…), ‘we try to create a thoroughly pleasant atmosphere here – something between a first-class hotel and a feely-palace, if you take my meaning.’ (…) In her room on the thirty-seventh floor, Linda had floated in a sea of singing lights and perfumed caresses-floated away, out of space, out of time, out of the prison of her memories, her habits, her aged and bloated body.” Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, 1932

Aldous Huxley highlights how the manipulation of the olfactory atmosphere affects human cognitions, emotions, and even well-being. After all, since ancient times, the sense of smell has been known and used for its emotional and mood changing qualities.

Today’s air pollution, chemical weapons, or post-industrial air design create a situation where air is not simply a natural condition, but is produced technically and culturally. Because of this, the meaning of smells is dynamic. For example, consumers have long appreciated the new car scent, which is in fact a by-product of the off-gassing of synthetic materials that are used in the production of modern cars. This scent has become a cultural icon because of its association with the happiness arising from the purchase of a new car. However, in China’s growing car market today the very same scent is the customer’s top concern ahead of engine issues, road noise or fuel consumption.

Because of their biological and cultural power, smells are key to the success of contemporary marketing and corporate communication. In an effort to venture into the territory of smells and scents, this interrogates the role of olfaction in consumer culture and organisational life.

Wednesday October 24, 6pm at ex Asilo Ciani in Lugano: The conference will be held in English. Entrance is free with limited seating. Reservation at or by October 19, 2018. 

The workshop was initiated and made possible by Prof. Jeanne Mengis and Prof. Luca Visconti at Università della Svizzera italiana in Lugano.

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