In a push to get younger consumers into dealerships, Lincoln has undertaken a crash rebranding program. Ford is pushing dealers to upgrade facilities, as well as retraining sales staff in the lingo of “progressive luxury.” Chic furniture and flatscreens are some of the stereotypical dealership improvements that Lincoln hopes to persuade dealers to implement. But there’s one initiative that’s certainly out of the ordinary: the creation of a Lincoln-specific scent, to be wafted through dealerships.
Dee-Ann Durbin of AP covered the Chicago conference where Lincoln marketing gurus attempted to inculcate the assembled salespeople with the values of “progressive luxury.” Wearing animal print bathrobes, tasting flavor-infused salt, and sitting in luxurious chairs were just some of the activities designed to attune salespeople to the sensitivities of the moneyed yuppies breaking down the doors of Lincoln dealerships across the nation. The scent- described as “a fresh-smelling blend of Earl Grey tea, jasmine and orange flowers”- is part of the wider package. There are an endless number of jokes about the true scent of Lincoln to be made here (Aquanet and embalming fluid come to mind), but I’ll defer to commenters in that regard. Ford wants dealers to install some method of projecting the handcrafted odor throughout dealerships, although the exact method of delivery is unclear. Will it be candles? Incense burners? Custom Glade Plug-Ins? The goal is that customers will “memorize” the scent as intrinsic to the Lincoln brand identity, bringing them back for more huffs and more sales.
The website for consultant group Business Voice, the firm responsible for distributing the new initiative, goes into greater detail about the goals and the logic behind the Lincoln Scent. As the blurb points out, scent marketing isn’t a new idea. We all know that a Godiva store is supposed to smell like overpriced chocolate and that Abercrombie and Fitch douses everything in Extract of California or whatever their signature cologne is called. In a similar vein, Business Voice acknowledges the importance of “new car smell:” “It’s part of our culture’s collective awareness.” This brings up an excellent point: new car smell is valued because it’s a universally understood status symbol.
In fact, it might just be what keeps the entire industry afloat. That intoxicating aroma of outgassing plastics, drying glues, fresh fluids, and newly installed rubber fittings has pushed many a wavering car shopper over the edge. In an era when even consumers of extremely modest means can afford “luxury” colognes and perfumes, new car smell remains attractively dear. There are lots of people that can scrape together $100 for a bottle of Gucci or Polo or other vial of flammable liquids, but comparatively few that can sign off on a new car lease or loan. Sure, the difference in smell between a Versa and an S-Class isn’t radical. But it still shows that you’re wealthy enough right now to drive this year’s model, regardless of what class you might be buying in. Given the universally accepted importance of the new car smell to consumers, why do anything to cover it up? This smacks of an answer to a question that nobody asked.
The other point to consider is that luxury car showrooms are not like stores at the mall. For the most part, they are not areas for casual wandering and browsing. They don’t rely on $2.99 impulse buys like Cinnabon or Bath and Body Works. They’re stores that sell high-dollar, high-importance products to adults with significant resources. A classy interior and a slick sales staff can go a long way towards facilitating these purchases, but they aren’t what bring customers into dealers in the first place. Attractive products, competently marketed, under desirable brand names, are what keep luxury dealers in business. Rebuilding the Lincoln brand name will have to rest on stronger foundations than a pleasant scent.