Comment of the Day: “Scent Branding, Mind-Control, and Ethics”

Elizabeth was the first one to dive into this murky, interesting, science fiction/ “Brave New World” issue that I examined in  “Scent Branding, Mind-Control, and Ethics,” on a topic that confused me more the longer I considered it. What resulted was unusually long, perhaps accounting for the lack of comments, and Elizabeth’s reaction is long as well, but worth reading. There is something potentially sinister here, or perhaps around the corner—or just in our imagination and fears. Scent manipulation, and all it implies, is in the wilderness of ethics, where human nature, science and commerce meet.

Here is the “Comment of the Day”:

“I agree this is a complicated issue.  As you said, restaurant smells (natural, I assume) tend to make people hungry (or more hungry than they really are), as do waiters with large platters of beautiful food which often encourage patrons order more, different, and perhaps more expensive food than what they may have had in mind.  The goal of the restaurant is to sell food:  if memory serves, it’s only been in the last 20 years or so that restaurants had at least parts of their kitchens open to the dining area so “good smells” could waft out from them.  My memory from childhood of elegant restaurants were the multiple green baize doors that completely closed the kitchen off from the dining room.  So was this change intentional or simply simpler and cheaper as restaurant designs?  I don’t know, but it’s different.

“As Jack said, perfumes have been used for centuries… first to cover up body smell when bathing was less convenient than it was today.  Powder and make-up, similarly, were used to cover unhealthy skin coloration and blemishes for which, at that time, there was no effective solution.  Science and pharmaceuticals have made great progress in creating products that obviate the historic need for perfume and make-up.  With these advances, however, came a massive cultural change:  now one must NOT have a blemish, and even if one’s skin is perfect (I’m talking mostly women now, with a few male exceptions and people made up for movies and television); make-up is a normal addition to the human (or at least Western) presentation to the public. Perfume and cologne is an enhancement, not a way to cover up unpleasant body odors. Do many of these products contain “unnatural” and possibly “toxic” ingredients?  You bet they do.  Do they affect the behavior (or at least the attitudes) of those who come in contact with pretty men and women who smell good?  They absolutely do, and not just in entertainment and news broadcasts.  I would love to see the percentages of good-looking professionals on the way up vs. the perhaps more intelligent (but uglier) ones in the same company.

“And the need (increasingly pronounced with every decade) to always look younger than one really is adds an entirely new set of questions.  But with all of these, it is an individual choice to use enhancements or not.  Unfortunately, some individuals don’t like experiencing the perfumes and colognes and make-up of others, but just as it is an individual choice to use the product, so it seems to be (mostly) an individual choice not to be around those who use them if they bother you.

“I am not one who automatically distrusts corporations, but creating scents on a mass basis to encourage spending does bother me.  (My exception here would be Disney… which remains the most perfect capitalistic endeavor ever created  — that provides entertainment, education, has advanced technology considerably, and abuses or denigrates practically no one.)

“But IS the massive use of scent, which we knows affects behavior, unethical or a slippery slope toward unethical behavior?  Because the Polynesian Village at Disney World smelled like, actually, Hawaii (I’ve been to both), it wasn’t tied to buying something, because any visitor had already paid to be there in the first place.  Walt Disney was a genius and perfectionist, so it was a final touch to have your “village” actually smell like the real thing.  The smell of the Polynesian Village (or any other on-campus-named enclaves like the Grand Floridian) was a very small part of what encouraged visitors to spend money.  It was mostly everything else…  the amusements, the shows, the recreation, the food, etc.

But something about retail organizations using scent, and admitting outright that artificial scent encourages people to buy more, worries me, though I’m not completely sure how to explicate all the reasons…except insofar as that technology of all kinds is moving forward logarithmically, and today’s “simple” scent could soon be a complicated, breathable behavioral atmosphere that involves much more than scent.

“I have to think this over.  If this kind of unrequested behavioral modification product is in the corporate world, it surely has been looked at by government as well.  Anyone remember “soma” from “Brave New World?”

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