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What does blue smell like? In my mind, the ocean. And red? I think of roses, of love. International researchers have been exploring the link between our senses to see how we interpret smell into color. Their results reported in The Atlantic are interesting mostly for the differences that cropped up between cultures.

It’s logical, as where we live gives us different environmental and cultural associations. Some scents have obvious links to colors. Hazelnut, wood, vegetables. But then if you were to get the scent of soap, or plastic, the color you associate with it is more individual. It would be dependent on the color of the soap you use, or how you use plastic. Germans and the Dutch go for brighter colors for plastic, Americans tend to go for grey, white or black mostly.

What the study doesn’t explore is whether these scents and the colors selected by participants are triggered by nostalgia, particularly around generic smells like plastic. I wouldn’t be surprised if the colors I chose came from my childhood. The first immersion if you like. Smell is probably the best memory trigger we have.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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