Scratch 'n sniff this

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The Independent Online
When I told my friend Tom that the magazine Country Living had four pages of its latest edition impregnated with the smell of Gordon's gin, his townie response was to wonder whether any of its readers would notice. Were not large numbers of them likely to be pretty steady and constant consumers of the product already? He could only think of one gesture more redundant, and that would have been to attach a pair of free green wellington boots to the front cover.

My worry was rather different. It often occurs in literature that country houses - among their other inhabitants - contain at least one former alcoholic who is drying out. This pathetic soak is denied the keys to the drinks cupboard and all the local hostelries have been instructed not to serve him. Imagine the horror of his family when, returning home from the gymkhana, they find the poor lush boiling up copies of Country Living in a saucepan, or lying in a stupor on the drawing room floor, his mouth stuffed full of a profile of Petronella Wyatt. What a way to go.

The be-ginned magazine is, of course, an inevitable latest stage in a process that has been going on since I was a child. Then the comics used to compete for my custom by Sellotaping a piece of toffee to their covers. Today CDs, computer games, and free sex guides are the most oft-used attachments. Condoms adorn certain youth publications, while (confusingly for busy parents) coloured balloons attract kids to Rosie And Jim.

This is familiar, and not unpleasant, for the reader. But I believe that there is something rather less benign about the Gordon's approach. In the first place the increasing use of one sense (the olfactory) to ensnare those who are essentially using another, is sneaky and underhand - reminiscent of those banned techniques for subliminal advertising. Had they known about it, the North Koreans would have used smells like "Main Street USA" to bend the minds of POWs.

It is my view, as a columnist of no little substance and weight, that we writers are ourselves threatened by this development. Already those who toil at their word-processors in the service of women's magazines have to compete with pages exuding fabulous perfumes. How can you expect to hold a reader's attention on "five things you never knew about premature ejaculation" when the marvellous pong of "Passion" is overleaf?

And the Gordon's promotion shows that things will get worse. Silk Cut ads will release nicotine into your face, the odour of hot exhaust and the sound of revving engines will accompany the latest Peugeot puff. The distractions from the editorial content of magazines and journals will grow.

So here is my proposal, based upon the cowardly principle of "if you can't beat 'em". It is to press smell into the service of writers themselves. The fulminations of moral majoritarians such as Mr Paul Johnson could be accompanied by a whiff of sulphur. Defence correspondents could nominate a favourite chemical weapon to permeate their pieces. The not unpleasant odour of dusty libraries could emerge from the columns of elder statesmen.

Indeed, whole publications could be distinguished by more than the colour of their paper or the vividness of their cover photography. Gardening World would greet with the rich stink of a good mulch. Angling Times' chubb would take on Fishermen's Monthly's bass. Let us draw a veil over how this idea might be handled by the mags on the top shelf, but newspapers could do it, too. The Guardian's "essence of staffroom" (mingled mung- bean on soda bread and self-righteousness) would compete with the Independent's own "hugely intelligent person after a good work-out" (light sweat and yoghurt). Mmmm. Smells good.

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