Smell-O-Vision: Enhancing Customer Experience

Smell-O-Vision: Enhancing Customer Experience

Motion picture studios experimented with a variety of gimmicks throughout the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s in an effort to compete with the new audience-stealing medium known as television. One of these gimmicks, promoted by film producer Mike Todd, Jr., was called Smell-O-Vision because it made an effort to use well-known odors to improve the movie-going experience for an audience. However, the Smell-O-Vision method was an unreliable failure with audiences, and just one Smell-O-Vision movie was ever released.

A German film technician by the name of Hans Laube actually invented the technique Todd called Smell-O-Vision many years prior. However, Laube dubbed his invention Scentovision. A projectionist would manually release different perfume vials at key moments in a film, such as the aroma of roses during a love scene or the smell of gunfire during a shootout. Numerous factors contributed to the original Scentovision system's failure, not the least of which was the overwhelming number of clashing scents that finally filled the theater.

Mike Todd, Jr. and his father recalled a previous demonstration of Laube's Scentovision technology while they were considering a fresh strategy to promote their most recent movie, Around the World in 80 Days. Todd did commission a comedy-mystery movie that would use Smell-O-Vision, even if the redubbed Smell-O-Vision system wasn't really used on that movie. With the aptly named Scent of Mystery, this film would have the dubious distinction of being both the first and last to be made in Smell-O-Vision.

The plan was to equip each theater seat with a hollow tube that would allow the different fragrances to be transmitted at significant story points. For instance, the distinct smell of pipe smoke might be used to depict one particular persona. The timing of a belt containing the various fragrance vials with the music would ensure that each audience member inhaled the appropriate aroma at the appropriate time. In reality, though, some of the fragrances arrived either too late or not at all in relation to the plot elements.

Smell-O-Vision has the same issue that 3-D movies had a few years earlier. The actual method was far superior to how it was used in the movies. Smell-O-sensory Vision's overload feature irritated viewers, and Scent of Mystery was widely derided by critics at the time. The Smell-O-Vision method was discontinued as studios battled for survival as the era of motion picture gimmicks quickly came to an end. Attempts to revive Scent-O-Vision in the modern era typically utilize special scratch-and-sniff cards that viewers are instructed to smell at particular sequences. While some of the technological issues with smell transmission may have been resolved, directors like John Waters have made some questionable decisions when it comes to the odors used in a modern Smell-O-Vision film.