A Feast for the Senses: Sensory Marketing

Leo York
2 min readAug 16, 2021


When most marketers think of content in all its many forms (copy, graphics, etc) they tend to think of shapes and colors first and sounds second.

And nothing else.

This isn’t unreasonable. Graphics are an exclusively visual interface. Direct Mail and Direct Response are read-only. Video format ads are seen and heard. Lastly, radio and podcast ads are purely auditory.

Furthermore, humans are visual creatures. Our languages are loaded with cues that it is our primary means of understanding the world. An audio discussion is still called an interview. We talk about people seeing things from our perspective, our outlook. An ambitious person has vision. So it stands to reason, both technologically owing to our means of communication and biologically owing to our senses, that things would be fit into a visually oriented series of formats.

The bottom line? You seldom get an opportunity to feel, smell, or taste an ad campaign, Pepsi Challenge notwithstanding. But this doesn’t mean you should ignore the other senses. I’m not suggesting some scratch and sniff Direct Mail, or textured billboards, or lick-able brochures.

Instead, think of what senses are internally triggered by the appropriate language and imagery. Seeing steam rise in gentle, translucent curls above a mug of black coffee doesn’t just provide an image. The aroma of coffee, and all the emotional cues that go with it, are activated.

Hearing the sizzling of steaks on a radio commercial sparks the same response but with flavor. Seeing someone rest their face on a soft pillowcase with the words “750 thread count” invokes a phantom sensation with regard to touch/tactile sensation. Balancing the appeals to the senses can balance your message, especially if it is for a product or service that caters to other senses, such as food or music or pain medicine.

And speaking of pain medicine, those red harsh lines of pain and wavy blue lines of relief in those types of commercials really illustrate how you can create visual cues that can correspond to a feeling that transcends the mere sense of vision. Watching those commercials, you can really understand and feel what those red and blue lines mean in an almost tactile way.

The lesson in all this? Sure, marketing may be limited to eyes and ears most of the time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t appeal to the other senses to great effect by thinking of how those responses work and in relation to certain words, sounds, and images. Appeal to all the senses even when you’re just using two, an you’ve more than doubled your marketing palette.