It’s Beginning to Smell a lot Like Christmas

At DI we wanted to do a bit of ‘digging’ and ‘chopping down the data’ on the season to be jolly and stumbled upon Christmas Trees. This symbol of Christmas came from a tradition where Romans identified the evergreen tree as a ‘symbol of life’ and then chopped them down to display within the home. This is now one of the key images when thinking about Christmas.

The market for real Christmas trees is a significant part of Christmas spending with families investing an average £48 on one this year. How we select a Christmas tree depends on whether we wish to have the scent, pine needles and traditional feel of a real tree, or perhaps they choose a pre-lit or colourful tree to meet their needs.


Using Brandwatch Analytics we decided to monitor the conversations on social media around “real Christmas tree” and “spruce” in the UK and returned over 200 mentions from 1st of November to 16 December. There was a very small amount of cleansing needed on this data to remove some irrelevant data, which left over 130 mentions of social media gold (frankincense and myrrh).

The findings from this data were interesting – we see that females are talking more about real Christmas trees than males moreover; there was an overwhelmingly positive sentiment towards real Christmas trees. This is refreshing given that there was a dip in sales of real trees some years ago.

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 14.15.28Alas, the negative sentiment expressed by Twitter and Instagram users focussed on the fact that some customers who have purchased real Christmas trees this year are finding that they’re already turning brown… This unfortunate sequence of events is apparently caused by the milder weather we’ve been experiencing in the UK this year. Apart from these little nuggets of insight there was something striking that we managed to pull from the data: the smell (no, not that the data was odorous). Yes, people love the smell of real Christmas trees – and in fact there is an entire market of Christmas tree scented items including decorations, candles and air fresheners. Even bleach manufacturers have got in on the act with festive scented toilet cleaners.

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Here comes the science bit

This got us thinking about the effects of smell and marketing, or to give it its more formal name “Olfactory product marketing” and what this means for brands. We know that scents evoke powerful memories. Our olfactory system has direct links to the amygdala and hippocampus, two parts of the brain that have be shown to be important in processing emotions. This means that we can associate smells with experiences and emotions much quicker than with other senses.

With more stores using what the Wall Street Journal refers to as “Scent marketing” to attempt to attract customers into store and increase dwell time, it is important to note that the scent should be subtle for highest effectiveness, therefore control is key. This is undoubtedly something that you will have experienced if you have ever taken a trip to a Hollister or Abercrombie and Fitch store. Research from Concordia University indicates that while these scents have a calming influence on some shoppers, others are at risk of experiencing anxiety.

Neuromarketing relates to marketing research and our responses to marketing stimuli allowing for a scientific approach to understand behaviours. This examines how visual stimuli “drives us to emotions and thought processes that cause us to act on impulses.”

There are huge crossovers between neuro and sense related sphere which can help us to understand the customer journey. When we communicate on social media we are at our most emotional using our other senses through the medium of images, sound and video. This has the power to evoke memories which are just as powerful as scent. So returning to Christmas trees, we wonder – could seeing a Facebook memory of last year’s tree could provoke similar levels of emotional response as the scent of pine needles. We will continue to mull this over in the New Year.


Have a great Christmas and New Year everyone.

© Disruptive Insight 2015.