This isn't just any old tyre. Sniff it and see why ...

Smells sell. Nice smells, that is. Meg Carter reports on companies on the scent of success

What should you buy the car driver who has everything? Well, how about rose-scented tyres - far more pleasing than the usual rubbery smell, says Sumitomo Tyres, the company developing the concept. It's a bizarre notion yet Sumitomo plans to introduce inexpensive fragrant tyres to the UK later this year. It is the latest in a growing trend among companies who now acknowledge that smells can sell.

"Rose-scented tyres will appeal to the luxury end of the car market, although they could be relevant across a range of other models," says Bob Heywood, marketing manager at Sumitomo UK subsidiary SP Tyres. "We believe it can give us a competitive edge." So confident is the company that its revolution in automotive technology will catch on that it has applied to register the aroma as a UK trade mark.

And it's not the only one. Six other businesses are now applying for aromas to be registered as trade marks under legislation introduced last year which allows smells, shapes, sounds and even colour to be protected under British trademark law for the first time. Other applications range from beer-flavoured darts to furniture flavoured with a hint of cinnamon.

"Smell is increasingly being recognised as an important part of selling because people aren't aware they are being manipulated by it," explains Richard Zambuni, deputy managing director at marketing specialists CLK. "It's no coincidence supermarkets pipe the smell of baking bread rather than fresh fish to customers as they walk in the door." But, increasingly, subtler arts are being employed.

This month, dry-cleaning chain Sketchley will pump the fragrance of mown grass and grapefruit around 70 of its stores in an attempt to emulate the fresh atmosphere typified by Next and The Gap. The aim is to disguise the smell of dry-cleaning chemicals, explains Nick Joslin, Sketchley's marketing director. "Of all the senses, smell is most closely linked to memory - a bad smell lingers."

BT is considering the potential for perfuming its public phone boxes. Meanwhile, CLK has developed the smell of fresh coffee beans for Lyons instant coffee. A sachet impregnated with coffee bean oil inserted into every lid is designed to break as the jar is opened. Zambuni sees significant potential in using smells in packaging: perhaps scratch 'n' sniff samplers of the product inside.

Smell works at a number of different levels, says Simon Dwyer, director of planning at consultants Harrington Oakes. "It can work by memory association. We have, for example, experimented with the aroma of suntan lotion in travel agents," he says. Or it can convey luxury or traditional values - "such as the aroma of leather wafting through the otherwise stark offices of a firm of solicitors situated in a modern office block". And it can relax or stimulate.

The strategic use of smells has significant potential, Mr Dwyer believes. "Shopping is only one part of it: smells can create an environment conducive to buying. But there are major applications for hotels, offices and even hospitals, where they could be used to reduce stress and increase recovery rates."

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