Accepted Paper:

Marketing scents and the anthropology of smell  

Author:

Brian Moeran

Paper short abstract:

There is something that neither marketing nor anthropology has been able to deal with very successfully to date: the role of smell in our everyday lives. This paper addresses the anthropology of smell by examining the production, packaging and consumption of incense in Japan.

Paper long abstract:

There is something that neither marketing nor anthropology has been able to deal with very successfully to date: the role of smell in our everyday lives. This is in large part because we have in general an extremely limited vocabulary with which to talk about smells and fragrances, but also because people's reactions to, and associations with, particular smells border on the anarchic. In other words, any notion of a 'taste culture' (or olfactory culture) based on particular social or cultural divisions is likely to fall apart at the seams and become as elusive, theoretically, as smells themselves are, physiologically, to the nose.

This paper addresses the anthropology of smell by examining, in particular, the production, packaging and consumption of incense in Japan. A number of questions arise in this context. How do professionals talk about smell in the incense, perfume, food and drinks industries? How can they ensure the consistent reproduction of mass-produced brands of incense, perfume, or whisky? What colour symbolism do they make use of in the packaging of their products, and how are colours integrated with the advertising of different smells? How is incense marketed to consumers, and how has the incense market in Japan been adapted from reliance on institutional ritual to the creation of a personalized leisure pastime? Fieldwork research data will be used to advance, if possible, some of the issues in which both marketing and the anthropology of smell are currently entangled.

Panel P2
Markets and cultures: articulations, constellations and new challenges for anthropology