Project Lather

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Body Wash & Bar Soap: The Senses

Research shows that the senses, especially smell, have a link with memory. Senses are linked to the humans' limbic system, the area of the brain that controls long-term memory and emotions. Some brands, especially in the food and drink industry, combine taste and smell to induce stronger memories.

Due to this research, marketing departments of various companies aim to induce a positive emotional reaction from potential clients through sounds, visuals, smell, or touch. Some examples of brands that combine the senses for marketing are Herbaria, AXE, and 18.21.

In some cases, brands can try to simulate the sense of smell with a technique called "smellizing," which is intended to stimulate the brain to imagine or recollect a smell using text/images and asking a person to imagine the smell. Marketers can sell their smell by scenting their retail spaces or using imagery in their marketing.

Senses and Memory

As marketers look for ways to reach customers emotionally, recent research has shown that senses have strong links to emotions and memory. Smell particularly is known to be controlled by the same mechanisms that control emotions: the limbic area of the brain. Brands know that scents can trigger feelings of well-being, happiness or joy.

Other research also shows that media that use three or more senses benefit from much higher brand impact (70%). For example, Bath & Body Works and Yankee Candle both provide a "full-blown sensory experience complete with wonderful smells, bright colors, a tactile experience via testers and samples and some pleasant music" in their stores.

Another function of scent marketing is to associate the retail location with certain smells in the customer's head. That way, the next time he comes back, he will have a sense of familiarity, which may lead to spending more time (and money) at the store. Starbucks takes advantage of this marketing method, which is detailed later in the paper.

Emotions & Multi-Sensory Marketing

In practice, brands use multiple techniques and "tricks" to evoke emotions in their clients. The most successful ones try to use a multi-sensory marketing campaign.

A testimony on the Herbaria storefront states, "I am in love. Upon entering the store, my senses were greeted by a bouquet of fruit, flowers, spices, and herbs. It was just the pick me up I needed on a cold, grey December afternoon." In this example, Herbaria took advantage of the joyful emotions that certain smells can give off to evoke positive vibes on a dreary winter day.

Herbaria also uses a multi-sensory marketing approach by combining touch, smell, and taste to garner the interest of their clients. Scented soaps such as 'almond green tea,' 'mojito,' and 'lavender licorice' made clients joke about their temptations to taste the soaps. Other customers commented on the "smoothness of the bar" that slid effortlessly, and how it provided a peaceful feeling when combined with the scents of almond green tea.

Sensory Marketing Across Industries

Sensory marketing has already been tested and used by multiple industries, not just the bath and beauty industry.

Starbucks is famous for creating an environment in their coffee shops that appeal to the customer's sense of smell, touch, sight, and taste. The music played, the homely design and the smell of coffee combine to create a familiar, emotional impact found with every visit to any shop in the world.

Abercrombie & Fitch is another example of a brand using stimuli for multiple senses in their stores. Their fragrance sprayed all over the shop, the sight of their physically attractive vendors and their loud music blaring are conceived to create an emotion within their customer base, which in this case is rather young.

Marriott Hotels have taken advantage of new Teleporter technology to go even further in stimulating customers' senses. Using Oculus Rift technology, the prospective client can explore any holiday destination in the world, with their sense of touch stimulated by water sprays simulating the sea, and heaters simulating the sun. Their sight is stimulated by 4D vision.

SENSE mimic

As visual and digital media cannot target the smell sense, and knowing its effect on emotions, research has shown that a technique that consists in asking a viewer to imagine a product's scent called "smellizing" can have a similar impact on the brain as the smell itself.

Brands can use text and images to describe how the product smells, for example by showing a close-up of a nose in a TV commercial. However, the ad would have to show the picture and ask the customer to imagine the smell, to be effective.

Others have been trying to use technology to bridge this gap. A research team at City University London has been working on technology applications to send the scent of flowers via a text message, using a special device connected to the phone. There are "approximately 100 scents available" for this device.

Imagery and Sensory Media

Providing imagery to activate the senses is not a new concept and has been frequently used in literature, marketing, and business writing. Take this advertisement describing AXE's Cool Charge Body Wash:

"With notes of chilly iced mint and refreshing ginger, this intensely cooling body wash has advanced touch release technology to release fresh bursts of fragrance with every touch of your skin. Just lather on, rinse and dry, and stay energized all day."

The use of sensory language helps paint a visual picture of the product being used on the skin, and by listing the ingredients, the customer can imagine the smells of iced mint and ginger. The advertisement effectively combines touch and smell, while evoking emotion by indicating customers will "stay energized all day."

As a bonus, here is a description of 18.21 Man Made Wash:

"Man Made Wash features 18.21 Man Made's signature Sweet Tobacco oil blend. A masculine aroma inspired by sweet Virginia pipe tobacco and the roaring spirit of swanky Prohibition era speak easy lounges. The first impression will introduce notes of spicy saffron and dried fruit which, will mellow during the dry down to reveal notes of manuka honey, dark toned vanilla and tonka bean to sweeten the touch of tobacco, exotic woods and powdery musk that round out the base. Leaves a lasting impression."

18.21 Man Made Wash was named one of the best body wash for men, recommended in part for "channeling your inner manliness" while "emitting the smell of sweet tobacco (in a good way)." The above description of the product leaves the imagery and emotion of feeling masculine for using the product by using a combination of smell, touch, taste, and sight.


Research shows that the senses, especially smell, have a link with memory. Senses are linked to the humans' limbic system, the area of the brain that controls long-term memory and emotions. Marketers are taking advantage of this research by looking for ways to use imagery and other techniques to stimulate the sense of smell. They have also combined the senses to create multi-sensory advertising, which can be more powerful in creating emotions and sales.
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Body Wash & Bar Soap: Influences

Men who prefer soap bar are older, have a smaller income and are looking for the simplicity of the wash. Men who prefer body wash are younger, are looking for more hydration from their care products, and have a bigger income. Men are investing more money and time into buy their body cleansing products. However, women still play a major role when it comes to actual purchasing decisions.


When it comes to men's care products, there is a number of variables that affect consumer behavior, and they can be split into three main groups. The first group is called individual variables, which includes self-image, the influence of age, any health issues, and the appeal of the body. The second group is the socio-cultural variables, which includes personal beliefs and lifestyle. The last group is also known as marketing
variables, and contains influences such as advertising or purchase situations. A study revealed that individual elements such as self-image and individual cultural disparity factors systematically affect impulsive buying behavior, or buying on a whim rather than planned purchases. In another study, the elements that push buyers to buy products ranging from most important to the least are: personal factors, situational factors, the reason for the consumer’s purchase and societal factors.

US consumers look for the following in their care products:
42% are primarily looking for natural ingredients
62% are primarily interested in products that are dermatologically-tested
51% opt for products for sensitive skin
32% look for products that are certified organic.

An academic study found that the only three variables that have a significant impact on men's purchases of care products are celebrity endorsement, aging concern and socio-cultural. Moreover, celebrity endorsement has the highest impact on men’s purchasing of skin care products. This finding has led skin care companies to hire male celebrities that are popular with the male audience for their advertising campaigns.

When it comes to who buys men's body wash and bar soaps, the answer can be found in this answer by Elodie Bohuon who is a Selfridges beauty buyer for the men's grooming market. "Men are starting to get more and more knowledgeable about beauty and are paying attention to their looks: hair care is the biggest category, with shaving coming second." She also notes, however, that "women still play a very important role in that market. A very big percentage of women are still buying men's grooming lines as gifts, or on behalf of partners."


American men have been in favor of the soap bar over the body wash since the 1990s all the way until 2009, which was the year when the US went from being a bar-soap nation to a body-wash nation. Following the preference change, in 2012, body wash outsold bar soap ($756 million to $754 million). Since then, body wash sales have continued to rise and have since had a yearly growth rate of around 5%, versus that of 1.4% in bar soap. Generally, in the American society, body wash is emerging as the main preferred body cleanser.

Bar soaps have been proven to cause less irritation on the skin as they don’t have harsh chemicals, which are often featured in body washes. In general, the rule of thumb is: men who prefer exfoliation will opt for body wash, and the men who choose bar soap do so because the bar soap is suitable for all skin types.

When it comes to the price factors, men go for the bar soap as they can save money, and the bar soap lasts longer. Those whose main priority is getting clean go for the body wash. Most men with kids usually go for bar soap as liquid tends to be spent more quickly. Men who are focused on bacteria and overall cleanliness go almost exclusively for the body wash as it doesn't seem to be the breeding ground for bathroom bacterial, unlike open bar soaps. Those men that prefer simplicity and straightforwardness of getting clean will go for the bar soap as it takes less time and hassle. Men who care about how they present themselves to others will go for bar soap as body wash just doesn't seem manly.

A market report on US men care consumers revealed that the choice of bar soap vs. body reflects both a generational and a gender divide. The soap bar is most popular among older adults. 60% of those older than 65-year-old are using bar soap for both their body and face, while only 33% of those ages 25 to 34 do the same. However, almost 50% of all U.S. consumers, and 60% of those aged 18 to 24 think that bar soap has more bacteria than a bottle of liquid soap. Despite all the reasons listed, the main reason why soap bar sales have seen a continued smaller growth compared to the body wash is simply convenience. Mintel research found that more than 50% of all consumers think that bar soap is just less convenient than liquid soap.


When it comes to the price factors, men who are looking to save money will purchase bar soap, especially because bar soap also lasts longer. Those whose main priority is getting clean go for the body wash. Almost 50% all U.S. consumers, and 60% of those aged 18 to 24 think that bar soap has more bacteria than a bottle of liquid soap.