Marketing Campaign Targets Noses at Bus Stops

The California Milk Processor Board approves a first-ever "olfactory-based" marketing plan. After today, five bus shelters in San Francisco will gain aromatic strips smelling of just-baked cookies. Marketers hope the strips, attached to the interior walls of bus shelters, will lead passengers to drink a glass of milk.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

If you're worried about your cholesterol then this next story is not for you. It's about a new advertising campaign designed to make you think about chocolate-chip cookies and a big glass of milk.

From San Franscisco, Nancy Mullane reports.

NANCY MULLANE: Beginning this morning, adhesive strips made the smell like freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies are being affixed to the interiors of five bus stops throughout the city. Just around the corner from one of the bus stops is the advertising firm that created the campaign. Thomas Kemani(ph) and Byron Del Rosario(ph) say they got the sweet idea one Sunday afternoon.

Mr. THOMAS KEMANI (Marketer): We were just sitting actually underneath some Got Milk ads from the agency that has them. Just joked - yeah, like what if we bus shelters that smell like chocolate-chip cookies and then we -

Mr. BYRON DEL ROSARIO (Marketer): What if we had bus shelters that smelled like chocolate-chip cookies.

MULLANE: They took it to their boss, Jeff Goodby, the creator of the Got Milk campaign.

Mr. JEFF GOODBY (Creator, Got Milk? Campaign): You can tell it was a great idea. I just didn't know whether we could do it.

MULLANE: At first, they considered scratch and sniff. But who's going to scratch and sniff in a bus shelter. Eventually, research and development designed the foot-long adhesive strips. There aren't any local government regulations limiting the use of the smells, but they can be a public health nuisance. San Francisco supervisor Tom Ammiano was curious about the smell.

Mr. TOM AMMIANO (Supervisor, City of San Francisco): Do you have it, scratch and sniff?

(Soundbite of inhalation)

Ahh, kind of like stale Oreos.

MULLANE: Though, he didn't really care for the scent. He said it's not the cookies but the subliminal smell of the campaign he does not like.

Mr. AMMIANO: I don't understand the purpose of this is, which I think is very Orwellian, you know, that you evoke through olfactory certain responses, but what I really smell is the stink of corporate manipulation.

MULLANE: Again, Jeff Goodby, the creator of the Got Milk? campaign.

Mr. GOODBY: This campaign is always worked on the basis of being ready in case you have chocolate-chip cookies. You know, it's a fair based campaign, really. But we're trying to frighten people into thinking: I might not have enough milk. What if this happens to me at home?

MULLANE: So do the strips smell enough like chocolate-chip cookies and if they do, will people riding the buses buy more milk? I took one of the strips to a bus stop to find out.

Unidentified Woman: Oh, wee. It's kind of chocolaty. I don't know like cookies.

MULLANE: Anything about milk come to mind?

Unidentified Woman: No, makes me hungry. Like I want to eat something.

MULLANE: Do you know what you want to eat?

Unidentified Woman: A cookie.

MULLANE: Is there anything you want with the cookie?

Unidentified Man: Milk.

Unidentified Woman: Personally, a little vodka.

MULLANE: Oh.

Unidentified Woman: That was wrong.

MULLANE: The trial campaign of the chocolate-chip cookie-scented strips will last throughout the holiday season and then if you're sitting somewhere and you suddenly feel the need for a cookie or a glass of milk, you better check for the strip. The campaign could go national.

For NPR News, I'm Nancy Mullane in San Francisco.

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