Some time ago, researchers at the University of Zurich discovered something that made marketing wonks everywhere do a dance of joy.
Apparently, if you inhale a hormone called oxytocin, you’ll feel more inclined to trust whomever you’re interacting with. Yes, you read right: trust now comes in a convenient nasal spray. No word yet on whether the lemon-scented version works better than the one smelling of pine forest.
The effects peak after about 50 minutes, and fade after about two hours; this is of course, just long enough for anyone under the effects of the spray to get into some serious trouble. For example, they might actually make a decision to vote for a politician based solely on that politician’s glitzy campaign ads. Or worse, they might start thinking Rupert Murdoch’s news outlets are credible and educational.
If oxytocin sounds familiar it’s because you’ve heard about it before — it’s what they administer to women to induce childbirth. It occurs naturally in the body; both men and women have it, and it is released during sex.
So why did this study reveal that oxytocin produces feelings of trust? I can think of three possible reasons:
A) It wasn’t the hormone at all. It was the fact it was Swiss researchers. The Swiss are the ones with those rock solid bank accounts, after all.
B) You probably came into the world awash in oxytocin, and who’s more associated with feelings of trust than your mom?
C) Anyone willing to allow a complete stranger to spritz something up their nose has some trust issues going on anyway.
The discovery means that, as consumers, we’ll have to be on guard more than ever. For example, those scratch and sniff stickers we all enjoyed as kids might now be used for nefarious purposes. You might be asked to scratch a coffee cup sticker and then fill in a form that would allow Acme Java Ltd. access to your bank account — strictly to make your coffee purchases easier, of course. Indeed, if you were silly enough to inhale something that was both mocha *and* oxytocin scented, you’d probably feel compelled to go get the money (and your first born) for Acme Java yourself.
Having to go past the perfume counter in the department store will also become more dangerous. For me, this is always like running the gauntlet; I have a very good sense of smell and most perfumes seem far too strong. I swear department store beauticians hover near the store entrance, armed with spritz sample bottles, waiting for me. I can see how an oxytocin-laced run-in would go now:
BEAUTICIAN: HiwouldyouliketotrythelatestfragrancefromCalvinBrine *pffffft*
ME: No! This stuff gives me a headache.
BEAUTICIAN: Noitdoesn’t *pfffft*
ME: No really… it… *doink* Hi! I feel like I’ve known you forever.
BEAUTICIAN: You have dear. And so you’ll know that when I tell you Compulsion by Calvin Brine is on sale for only $300 an ounce, you’ll really want some.
ME: Gosh… you’re right… I do! But… hang on a minute… must… not…
BEAUTICIAN: Have I mentioned you smell wonderful? And that I have the perfect eye shadow for you over here?
ME: Wow? Really? I’m sure you wouldn’t mislead me.
BEAUTICIAN: No dear. Indeed, since I work on commission, I’m going to not mislead you right over to the expensive cosmetics counter…
Of course, the use of scent in marketing is not new. Bakeries have deliberately vented their ovens indoors for years, because there’s nothing quite like the smell of freshly baked bread to make you want to spend some dough on a loaf. Movie theatres position their popcorn stands between you and the screening room deliberately, so you’ll have to wade through the smell of warm, buttered popcorn to get to the show. Yum.
Strangely enough, it works both ways. Marketers have done such a good job of associating smells that many of us are convinced that the scent of freshly set plastic, motor oil, and synthetic carpet fibres = new car smell = good thing.
Rest assured however, that I would never stoop to such tactics to ensure your loyal readership. And believe me when I say I do not have shares in any bakeries or popcorn companies. You trust me right?
Photo Credit: Tookapic / Pixabay