Engage your Senses with Print

Five senses written in stone

Advancements in print technology have opened up doors to manipulate traditional 2D print in fascinating ways that trigger the senses.

Sensory branding involves curating a powerful physical and emotional experience around a product or brand. With a growing number of consumers looking for experiences and emotions beyond the usual products and services a company has to offer, more advertisers are trying to incorporate sensory cues in branded media with multi-sensory marketing.

According to a research commissioned by Martin Lindstrom, brand consultant and author of Brand Sense – Build Powerful Brands through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight, and Sound, media that appeal to more than three senses can increase brand impact and engagement by more than 70 percent. As big a number as that may seem, it makes a lot of sense when you consider how we’re hardwired. In recent years, researchers studying the human brain have discovered several new ways that the senses — especially smell — are tied to memory and emotional experience. Harvard Business School cites research done using pencils treated with tea-tree oil. Respondents were handed treated pencils and untreated pencils, then two weeks later were asked to recollect specifics about each. They found that “those given unscented pencils experienced a 73 percent decline in the information they could recall two weeks later, subjects given tea-tree-scented pencils experienced a decline of only 8 percent.” One important element they tended to remember? Brand name.

This evolution in media poses a big challenge for marketing managers, especially those who don’t have the budget necessary to build the technology that makes multi-sensory marketing possible. What can you do? One channel that continues to work that is both affordable and disarmingly low-tech is print. A common perception is that print is static and strictly 2-dimensional but advancements in print technology have opened up doors to manipulate traditional print in fascinating ways that trigger the senses.


Those who love print do so mostly because print media’s texture and weight satisfies our sense of touch. It’s also by the sense of touch that we can identify luxury products, examining the weight and texture of products to determine their quality. This is especially true for paper, whose different varieties and characteristics are imbued with tradition and social significance. Heavy and lightly textured card stock is commonly associated with formal occasions — wedding invitations, in particular, or other types of formal announcements. Velvety or cottony stock are associated with sophisticated affairs, and using them can suggest a prestigious characteristic to your brand.

Beyond traditional paper stocks, printing options or techniques that were once out of reach for advertisers in terms of cost and availability are now widely accessible online. Print vendors now offer a wide range of specialty printing techniques like embossing, foil stamping, spot coatings, die cut, letterpress and colour edging. Each can be applied to standard or unconventional card stock such as silk, cold foil silk, suede and cotton. For marketers who rely on cards for curating an image, this is a great way to add a new dimension to your branding.


Sight is perhaps the most challenging of the five senses to grab and sustain for any amount of time. Competing with digital screens and the stimulus of the surrounding world is tough. Sure, your choice of paper stock and printing technique will play a huge factor in the brilliance of your print, but it would do much better with a well-orchestrated visual hook, a strategic sense of hierarchy, smart use of typography and contrast. All visual and mental elements need to come into play if you want to keep your viewer intrigued.


Graphic Arts Mag calls our sense of smell one of the most primitive and most emotional senses, in part because of the ways aromas are wired into our neural pathways through our recollections of the past. When it comes to thinking of ways to incorporate smell on print, you probably jumped on the recollection of scratch and sniff or perfume samples inside a magazine. But that was years ago, and today’s technology allows you to get more creative with marrying the sense of smell with your printed media.

Before you jump on the tech, remember that successfully tapping into the power of the sense of smell starts with a well thought out strategy on how to effectively utilise a particular scent to enhance your message. How can you make your brand memorable with the sense of smell? The key may be in the element of surprise — which usually comes when your readers don’t need to do anything (like scratch and sniff your ad).

Finding creative ways to deliver scent to customers is an interesting task. Why not consider a technique similar to McCain Foods where they placed misters that sprayed the smell of baked potatoes near their billboards in bus stops. If you wish to try a more affordable and conservative route, scented cards or flyers operate on the same principle.

Applying scent to paper is easy, but knowing what scent to use isn’t always. If you want to be remembered, you need to serve your readers something unexpected yet still relevant to your message. If you’re printing cards to promote your spa, why not infuse the smell of pine trees to channel the effects of forest-bathing, as suggested in Reader’s Digest? Or infuse the smell of lemons or fresh cut grass onto print ads that are meant to invoke the emotion of joy or positivity.

Some printers have started developing personalised smells for clients, too. Scent marketing companies can create new aromas, much in the way perfume designers do, or tweak a range of ready-made smells for custom purposes. Scents will range the more conventional fare like coffee and chocolate to uncharacteristic or rancid scents like rotting flesh and vomit…..?! That’s a no from me.


Paper naturally creates a broad range of sounds when ripped, folded or crumpled. Think of the sound that tissue paper makes coming out of a gift box, or the exciting sound of opening a package. People connect with these sounds and unconsciously associate them with a feeling.

We’ve come a long way from the original singing birthday cards, all clunky and tinny in sound. New technology allows us to manufacture affordable chips, speakers and batteries that are small enough to integrate with print.

Similar to incorporating the sense of smell to your print, think about how adding the element of sound can create a memorable experience to the reader. What kind of sound relevant to your message and compliments your brand? Jingles are an old way to associate a pleasant tone with a brand name, but what other avenues are there for marketers? Let your creativity take the wheel and technology will find a way.


Taste and smell are closely associated. Food and beverage advertisers, in particular, are wise to take advantage of the synaptic cross traffic between these senses whenever possible. Anyone crosses paths with a bakery during their commute can attest to the power smell has on drawing out taste memories (and tummy rumbles, too). Finding creative ways to apply taste to paper are a gamble — chances are no one is going to want to lick a direct mail flier, just because it says it tastes like jerky.

When it comes to advertising, you can’t underestimate the power of the senses. In the coming years, refinements in technology will further the perception of products and branding messages towards a more interactive experience. Adding multi-sensory elements to your printed materials creates more dimension in your ad and can establish a better connection with consumers. Associating your brand with sensory cues can unearth your branding from the unconscious memory weeks or months down the road. While there is a lot of progress to be made in designing multi-sensory ad products, brands should never overlook any small opportunity to explore the deeper sensory connotations associated with their products.

Article by: Business.com Photo credit: Shutterstock