DUSTIN WALSH

Did Nissan's show marketing make scents?

Automotive News | January 16, 2013 - 3:01 pm EST

Dustin Walsh is a reporter for Crain's Detroit Business, an affiliate of Automotive News.
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DETROIT -- I had a little time Tuesday morning between interviews, meet-and-greets and general schmoozing to devote real time to the much-hyped scent at the Nissan display at the Detroit auto show.

The booth, erected by marketing firm George P. Johnson Co., featured what was advertised as the first-ever "brand smell" -- which Nissan planned to roll out to its dealers this year. The automaker described the smell as "modern" and green-tea like.

On Monday, I made two attempts to smell the Nissan smell, but with little success.

I thought I identified the scent as shoe leather -- at that moment, the booth smelled a bit like DSW Shoe Warehouse. Turns out it was just the fresh leather smell of the new cars on display.

Returning in the afternoon, I smelled a pungent citrus odor. I jotted it down in my notepad, looked up and noticed a display worker using a spray cleaner on a nearby display.

Thwarted again. It seems the Nissan smell thought it was 2009 (the automaker skipped the 2009-11 Detroit auto shows).

But Tuesday morning, with the help of a booth model, I found the smell -- near the back of the display on a set of stairs about 50 feet from the nearest Nissan on display.

I (keep in mind I'm no bloodhound) found the smell to be similar to the new light, slightly perfumey colognes on the market. It is somewhat woodsy-scented with a bit of a floral aroma, not pungent like some retail stores. (I'm looking at you, Abercrombie & Fitch. Seriously, can a mall shopper walk by your store without gagging?) In fact, the Nissan scent is barely noticeable.

By now, you've wondered why Nissan would spend the time and marketing dollars on a seemingly elusive scent.

Well, the odor idea didn't get off to a good start. A source informed me that workers complained of headaches from the strong odor Sunday as they put finishing touches on the display. For fear of nauseating the press and then the public, Nissan and George P. Johnson tuned down the scent -- maybe a little too much, my source said.

But a Nissan official said the reports of smell snafus were wrong.

"We actually turned our scent up on Monday as we felt it was too light and only noticeable at first on the lower tier of our booth," said Josh Clifton, public relations product specialist, via email.

Either way, I wouldn't expect to smell the Nissan brand smell at a dealer near you any time soon.

Nissan said its aroma -- labeled "the vert oriental" in French -- evokes the smell of green tea "during Chinese spring harvest."

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