Sensory printing: engage all of the senses

How do I reach thee? Let me count the ways. Marketers today are constantly looking for new ways to connect their target market with their message. There was a time in advertising when a clever idea and a solid budget were a sure way to get attention. Those days are gone. Marketing budgets are dwindling, and throwing money at expensive media buys guarantees nothing. As Jon Bond put it gracefully, “Marketing in the future is like sex: only the losers will have to pay for it.” 
It’s important to understand that marketing is not disappearing, it’s simply transforming. As an example, technology today is allowing us to create a mass media campaign that is personalized for each individual. You have the opportunity to choose how and where you connect at a one-to-one level!
In a world where consumer engagement and ‘going viral’ are the ticket to marketing stardom, we will focus our efforts on how to surprise and delight using the medium that is familiar to the greatest number of people — print. How can we make print new and surprising? We will explore how to engage all the senses using print media.
We will cover all five senses:  smell, taste, touch, sight and hearing. In addition to giving you a list of resources for standout ideas that use each of these senses, we will finish off by sharing some thoughts from Diana Lucaci, the Founder and CEO of True Impact. Now let’s begin with each of the senses.

Sense of Smell

The ability to smell is often noted as one of our most primitive and most emotional senses. It is also very important in marketing as it is most closely linked to memory. We have the ability to memorize 10,000 distinct smells! I am certain you have had that moment where you walk into a room with a familiar smell and your mind instantly takes you back to a memory. For a marketing perspective this is critical. Brands really want to be remembered. Brands also want you to reach for your wallet. Sometimes experiencing a scent can be directly connected in this way.
There are plenty of examples of companies who use your nose as a pathway to your wallet. Cinnabon strategically selects their leases to be located away from other food vendors so that the smell is impossible to resist. In his book, Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul, Howard Schultz shared that Starbucks temporarily pulled breakfast sandwiches from the menu because they masked the smell of coffee—which is critical to the brand experience. Examples are certainly not restricted to food! Rolls-Royce uses a special scent on their new cars to recreate the classic smell that originated from the wood paneling (this is completely different from the plastic ‘new car smell’ of lower end cars). Abercrombie & Fitch ensures that their fragrances are sprayed in store. Singapore Airlines scents their cabins, as well as providing that same fragrance to flight attendants. And the list goes on. There are companies specializing in helping businesses create an environment using scent. Misters hidden in vents and throughout spaces, allow for scent to be a controlled part of the brand.
But when is the last time a brand engaged our sense of smell through print? The most likely place your brain went is scratch-and-sniff. Now lets remember that today we can manufacture and print every smell. The question is how will you connect this ability to your message? I’ve seen many people in the airport rubbing the page of a scented magazine ad onto their bodies and while this serves as an effective sample for the fragrance brand, it’s also highly utilitarian and no longer offers the element of surprise that makes a brand memorable. It’s probable that the consumer in this scenario didn’t even register what perfume they were ‘using’! There are less common examples of scent working with print. Companies like McCain Foods have played around with communicating freshness with misters installed in bus shelters that make the ad smell like baked potatoes. Mr. Kipling, a UK brand, did the same with the smell of cake—not only did these ads deliver a sweet aroma, they also dispensed cake (so smell and taste and yum).

Actress Joanna Page switches on the first cake dispensing billboard on London's Tottenham Court Road | MR KIPLING / 101 AGENCY
Actress Joanna Page switches on the first cake dispensing billboard on London’s Tottenham Court Road | MR KIPLING / 101 AGENCY

Thus the key is to inject the expected with an element of surprise. One clever application of scent would be to infuse realtor’s ads with the smell of fresh baked cookies. You’ve perhaps heard that before a house showing the sweet smell of sugar and butter can make a potential buyer feel more emotionally connected to your home, why not extend this into the mailbox?

Sense of Taste

Since we are already on the topic of cookies and cake, let’s move on to taste. Much like our ability to encapsulate scent into a printed page, we can do the same with flavour. When they first hit the market in 2008 on a Welch’s grape juice ad in People magazine, Peel n’ Taste strips by First Flavor created quite the media buzz. The same strip was then used by the state of Florida to deter people from smoking (with the strip tasting like an ashtray).
There are certainly a lot of sweet personalized treats in the taste category, from tiny M&Ms decorated with a line art image of your face, to images printed on your birthday cake. We can expect that our ability to print on any surface will only continue to improve. Printing on food is also used to ensure security of high-value items such as rare fish. Nissha Printing Co in Japan has patented a special DNA ink that will verify if a food product is authentic. Food and pharmaceutical anti-counterfeiting packaging is expected to grow to 153 billion USD by 2020, currently sitting at 82 billion USD.

Customized M&M design from 
Customized M&M design from

However, dominating the conversation for the sense of taste today is 3D-printed food. We now have the ability to jet a variety of materials, from plastic, to concrete, to stem cells, to cake. Because why not! One example is Foodini by Natural Machines, a 3D printer that uses fresh ingredients to essentially manufacture your dinner. The printer is not yet released to the public, but the goal is that within the next couple of years it will be available broadly for about $2000. The company is positioning the device as a kitchen appliance targeting both commercial and home cooking. The idea is that it allows you to make fresh foods that would otherwise be time consuming. As an example you can create ravioli! If you have ever made ravioli at home you can appreciate how amazing printing it could be.
From potential to be used in space by NASA to deliver some pizza to cake decorating, the true value of this technology is not yet known. One argument is that it will allow us to enjoy fresher and less processed items at home more conveniently. Our food is already manufactured in a plant; the 3D printer brings this process into your home, allowing you to completely control the ingredients you use. Further, some scientists argue that as we approach food scarcity, the technology can be used to turn components of food thought of as unattractive (beet leaves) and reproduce them into items that are more appealing. Frankly, if a 3D printer can help me get some veggies into my stubborn preschooler, I’m in!

Sense of Touch

As print geeks, this is the one that we should all be obsessed with. Touch is the sense that keeps people buying printed books. Touch is the reason you still have a notebook on your desk, and most importantly touch is very difficult to simulate digitally. We are officially in the midst of the makers movement, where creating real life objects with our hands is all the rage (though catching virtual Pokémon is also making waves). The scientific term for touch is haptics. You may recognize it from iPhone commercials, as they have integrated a haptic response vibration to pressing on screen. This is used in gaming. And while we are experimenting with touch in electronics, the printing industry dominates this sense category. If you can reach into your wallet and pull out that ultra-thick, embossed, linen finished business card you have fallen victim to the ‘cool’ that is haptic.
Touch is also the sense that helps us identify luxury goods. A study conducted by the Shullman Research Center found that touch was the most important sense when it comes to persuading customers to buy luxury goods. In this study, 17 million adults ranked touch as the most important sense and 48 percent reported buying a luxury item in the past 12 months.
From the perspective of a printer we appeal to the sense of touch predominantly through our choice of substrate and finishing. Selecting the correct paper for a project will help a consumer understand the value of an item. No surprise then that paper giant SAPPI’s newest, award winning, campaign promoting print/paper focuses on this sense. Haptic Brain, Haptic Brand: A Communicator’s Guide to the Neuroscience of Touch is a hub for research done in the area of how touch is perceived by consumers. Here you will find a ton of information about how it all works.
In addition to substrate selection, finishing options that alter the surface of the substrate also provoke the sense of touch. Emobossing/debossing, coating and varnishes can be used to help consumers interact with an item through touch. There are some very neat options available in these categories. Using a die is the most authentic way of introducing an altered texture to your image, but it can also be expensive. Dies need to be manufactured (from copper for example), and those that are most impactful are usually specific to an individual job. As with all the examples in this article, the element of surprise is critical.
Spot coatings/varnishes are (usually) the cheaper alternative to raise the surface of the page. There is a lot of innovation in this area, particularly when it comes to digital finishing. Several manufacturers are making strides. Notably, Israeli company, Scodix has a great range of products that alter the texture of the page. Options include in-line spot varnish, foil, glitter applications and etc. With their recently announced partnership with Avery Dennison (see our July issue), we are likely to see more of these capabilities in the near future.
Lee Eldridge, Director of Interactive Solutions at C.J. Interactive shared his perspective on their Scodix equipment:
“We’re very excited about the new C.J. Hi-Lite processes we’ve brought in, which uses our Scodix Ultra Pro Digital Enhancement Press to apply variable thickness, clear polymer and various coloured foils to printed materials.
We’ve always done foil stamping, embossing and other specialized finishing in-house, but Hi-Lite gives us a reasonably priced, exceptionally versatile, premium-look enhancement option for even the shortest print-runs. It’s a great way to stretch our client’s budget and give their printed materials the significant visual and tactile impact to help their projects stand out.
In a world that sometimes feels dominated by digital screens, adding depth, texture and dimension to print through tools like this help set our printing apart, and really enhance the value we can bring to jobs.”
You may have noticed in our June issue we partnered with Print Panther of Oakville and Konica Minolta to produce a raised spot UV varnish cover produced on Canada’s first installation of MGI’s groundbreaking JETVarnish 3DS with Inline iFoil System. The tactile and visual impact is stunning. The decorating options available to different substrates for both traditional and digital processes are certainly growing. Our industry is paying attention to how the sense of touch can help improve the value proposition of print.

Sense of Sight

Most printed products are created predominantly to provoke your sense of sight. Sight is how a majority of the population will internalize your message. In addition to looking at printed products we also read them, which is another way of using your sense of sight. The problem with sight is that of all of the senses it’s the most flighty. When you smell or hear something you cannot escape it easily, when you touch you tend to hang on to the feeling. Sight however is hard to capture and maintain. As an example, we visually ignore 90% of products at the supermarket. So while sight is a bit obvious, it is not easy to wrangle and at the end of the day, not seen is not purchased.
When you are appealing to the sense of sight you need to help consumers focus. Whether you are presenting type or images or both, there needs to be a visual hook and a clear sense of hierarchy. Sight is an emotional sense, so remember to connect to your consumer. This is often accomplished with a provocative image, a specialty finish or beautiful typography. You can also capture sight by breaking visual standards in your product category. A great example of this done on the cheap but with tremendous impact is the No Name line of products with their solid yellow packaging. This works because colour and contrast are important visual hooks. Companies that work hard to create unique brand colours are tapping into this area of opportunity.

Sense of Sound

Generally speaking print has no sound, but this is quickly changing. The first experience you likely had with a printed item that uses sound was a greeting card that plays a tinny-sounding “Happy Birthday”. We have come a long way from that card. Our ability to manufacture chips/batteries/speakers is allowing us to create unique brand experiences using sound. I should say that more often than not, truly captivating applications of sound are interactive, which means they also rely on you using your body.
Volkswagen used the sense of sound as part of their “Fun Theory” campaign. If you haven’t seen the video of people taking the stairs instead of the adjoining escalator to “play” the piano steps go to now. Seriously, go…I’ll wait!
Interactive signage posters are also becoming increasingly popular. Capabilities of the artwork include; connecting to devices such as phones, responding to the environment such as playing sounds when someone touches the artwork, or even downloading streaming content. Novalia Audio posters use conductive inks to create an immersive and interactive print experience. They have printed posters that turn the printed page into an instrument. There is an excellent TedTalk about this topic delivered by Kate Stone, the Managing Director of Novalia. Another really neat interactive poster project is Trapped in Suburbia. Both examples allow the user to play the posters. Other commercial examples include Pepsi and Caramilk which both used posters that you can plug your headphones into in Toronto subway stations.

Trapped in Suburbia sound poster
Trapped in Suburbia sound poster

Caramilk Bar audio plug-in TTC poster
Caramilk Bar audio plug-in TTC poster

In addition to signage and posters, there have been advancements in using sound in books. In this category we can experience sound in a variety of ways. Sound can be played with button presses or page turns, as is common with interactive kids books. Photo books have also utilized sound chips, to help create mood around visuals or help tell the stories of the pictures. In fact you can buy picture albums and books that will allow you to record your voice or other sounds to enhance the reading experience.
Lastly, we have used augmented reality, as well as NFC chips and QR codes to connect print to mobile devices. Often this connection then allows for the integration of sound. In fact, the Share a Coke campaign has now evolved from first names to songs. In partnership with Shazam, the current marketing campaign uses Augmented Reality to connect the bottle to a song lyric using your phone. You are also able to record yourself lip-syncing to the song and share the video through social media.

Interview with Diana Lucaci, Founder & CEO, True Impact

image00In order to better frame the conversation about integrating our senses we had the opportunity to talk to Diana Lucaci, the Founder and CEO of True Impact. True Impact is the marketing research firm responsible for the A Bias For Action report released by Canada Post about a year ago. This report summarizes the largest study of its kind, with 270 participants. The core of this research looked at whether direct mail stood up against it’s digital marketing channel counterpart. The results confirmed that physical mail does in fact prove most effective, at the neural level. Even more relevant here, direct mail with a scent component was extremely well received by the brain. The study is available online, free of charge.
NL: Diana, tell us a bit about what True Impact is all about?
DL: We are a marketing research firm that looks to humanize the consumers. Brands already know who is buying and what they are buying.  Where True Impact fits in is understanding the ‘why’. We work closely with marketers to create persuasive and meaningful campaigns. What makes us unique is that we use objective research methods, like neuroscience and biometrics, to measure emotion. Our focus is on what is happening implicitly in the fractions of a second you have as a marketer to make a brand impression. These are behaviours consumers themselves are not aware of explicitly, and it’s exciting that biometric technology can help us fill the gap.
NL: How does looking at the brain help us create a better marketing message?
DL: It comes down to the way the brain processes information. All messages first enter our reptilian brain, then they are filtered to the limbic or middle brain, before they finally hit the neocortex. What is highly relevant here is that the middle brain is where we process emotions and the neo-cortex is where we process logic. So every message a marketer creates must first appeal to that emotional middle brain—no matter how logical the product, outcome or consumer. This is powerful information for a marketer because it is true for all of us. We are all wired this way. For example, you must first establish a relationship of trust before communicating facts, figures and functions.
NL: In the context of the five senses, which of them would you say is most important for print campaigns?
DL: Brands need to continue to understand that print is inherently a tactile experience. The ability to have that touch-and-feel moment is something that can’t be replaced by digital channels. Our research supports matching the message to the appropriate tactile experience. So the answer is not to instantly go to higher quality paper, but rather to match the message. For example, a flash sale on burgers is a low involvement offer and should communicate a different tactile message than a luxury spa opening. Luxury is very tactile, but not everything is luxurious. For example, water tastes better in a firmer container than in a thin, paper cup.
When it comes to design, your brain evaluates what is relevant within a fraction of a second. With physical media, we usually touch and see the images or graphics, before reading the text or offer details. Because your brain decides what is trash so quickly, you need to connect with that sense of touch and communicate a compelling offering with great visuals.
NL: I’m all about learning from other’s mistakes. Can you think of a few things that brands consistently struggle with? 
DL: Marketers definitely seem to struggle with too many calls to action. Our mind cannot actually multitask. Some people switch between tasks more quickly than others, but the mind can only process one concept at a time. If you position yourself in the shoes of the consumer, you are more likely to craft a message that will stand out. We refer our customers to levels of complexity and remind them that the simpler the message the more likely it is to stick.
Secondly, make sure you know where you want people to look. High contrast works well to grab people’s attention, but more often than not this is wasted on a claim that is not critical (for example, free shipping). Our brain is also really attracted to faces. If used correctly, having people in your advertisements can lead consumer’s eyes to the text.
Lastly, as brands seek engagement with their target market it is critical to objectively measure emotional response, and attach it to revenue goals and metrics within the company. Human beings have an underlying shared set of values. For example we all want to trust the companies we do business with. If marketers understand how to communicate their values by measuring emotional response, we all win.


We now have examples of how you can use print to focus on each of our five senses as well as some understanding about why engaging the senses is important. In closing, there are a couple of important takeaways that apply to each of the sense categories. Firstly, no matter which of the senses you are targeting make sure you are using the element of surprise to catch attention. Most of these initiatives are more expensive to implement, so don’t waste your investment on a “plain vanilla” message. Secondly, while you are expecting a higher upfront cost remember that this upfront investment should be recouped with the added lift from the innovation you use. It’s important then, to measure if this is occurring. Often these types of initiatives will use microsites to measure their performance. Lastly, remember that we rarely use only one of our senses to experience the world. For a strong impact integrate multiple senses without overwhelming the message.

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