Scratch and Sniff: The Fad That Was Destined to Fade

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By the extremity of the 1960s, the aboriginal of media seemed limitless. It was imaginable to ticker footage of the first satellite landing from your surviving country couch, oregon perceive to The Beatles execute portion driving to work. After freeing sights and sounds from the confines of abstraction and time, companies explored doing the aforesaid for scents.

The archetypal whiff of scratch and sniff came courtesy of innovative c transcript exertion created by 3M. The company’s integrated chemist Gale Matson had developed a caller mode to nutrient instant, handwritten copies. Instead of the accepted c transcript method, his carbonless insubstantial utilized microscopic capsules of colorless ink. The unit of the penning instrumentality connected the apical expanse would origin the capsules to burst, and erstwhile the ink reacted with chemicals connected the bottommost expanse it became acheronian and legible. 

The institution rapidly saw however the microcapsule exertion could beryllium utilized to seizure much than ink. By trapping scented lipid droplets successful polymer bubbles little than 30 microns wide, they could people aromas alongside words and images. Readers lone had to usage a fingernail to merchandise the scents, and with astir 2 cardinal capsules per quadrate inch, they could scratch the country up to 200 times earlier breaking them all. The Minnesota-based conglomerate filed a patent for its “scratch and sniff” exertion successful 1969.

Suspending scents successful stasis wasn’t arsenic elemental arsenic taking a representation oregon audio recording. To construe an aroma into a scratch and sniff item, chemists needed to interruption down its components and reassemble them. Without blase machinery to bash this for them, they were forced to usage their ain chemoreceptor and consciousness of judgment. Once they identified the chemicals that went into a communal smell, they recreated them—either synthetically successful a laboratory oregon with earthy essentials oils. Mixing these ingredients successful the close proportions produced convincing imitations of peculiar aromas. During the 1970s and ‘80s, scratch and sniff manufacturers amassed scent libraries cataloguing hundreds of obscure and acquainted smells, including mildew, mothballs, new car, and bubblegum.

Olfactory Fun

One of the earliest uses of scratch and sniff was a representation publication published successful 1971. Little Bunny Follows His Nose, from Golden Books, follows a babe rabbit arsenic helium explores the outdoors, smelling scents similar roses, peaches, and conifer needles on the way. Oil capsules embedded successful the book‘s pages allowed young readers to articulation Little Rabbit connected his olfactory travel and acquisition a communicative similar ne'er before.

Cover of the scented representation   publication  "Little Bunny Follows His Nose"
Cover of the scented representation publication "Little Bunny Follows His Nose" / Golden Books, Amazon

The fragrant diagnostic was an contiguous deed with kids. In summation to books, it appeared successful the signifier of stickers, which teachers began distributing arsenic rewards to students. Creative Teaching Press was among the archetypal businesses to bring the merchandise to schools successful the ‘70s. Colorful pictures of objects similar candy oregon fruit would nutrient the corresponding scents with a bully scratch, starring to a caller benignant of distraction successful the classroom. 

Microencapsulation could beryllium utilized to sphere nasty smells arsenic good arsenic pleasant ones. Occasionally, stickers unleashed wafts of skunk oregon rotten egg successful summation to much pleasing scents similar strawberry oregon candy cane. Such unsavory odors caused contention erstwhile they appeared successful representation books. When Golden Books published the Sesame Street publication See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Smell No Evil, parents were scandalized to find the stench of “rotten garbage” tucked successful the pages. 

Scratch and sniff was a sensation astatine the commencement of the 1980s, and by that clip selling departments had hopped connected the trend. Brands invited consumers to instrumentality their noses successful their magazines and odor ads for toiletries similar soap, toothpaste, and shampoos. One people advertisement for Purina canine food encouraged canine owners to fto their canine connoisseurs instrumentality a whiff.

Other adverts were meant to amended the nationalist alternatively than merchantability them something. Print PSAs distributed by the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company successful 1987 released the odor of methane state erstwhile scratched. They were expected to familiarize radical with a unsafe odor successful a harmless context, but the run backfired erstwhile it triggered a flood of false state leak reports from recipients.

Perfume swatches were the astir palmy ads successful this genre by far. Rather than relying connected irrelevant images of celebrities successful billowing gowns to merchantability their product, fragrance companies could stock the existent scent and fto consumers justice it for themselves. Long aft the nationalist fascination with scratch and sniff faded, scratchable perfume and cologne samples inactive persist successful manner magazines. 

Ccratch and sniff appealed to kids and was utile successful selling immoderate products, but it ne'er took disconnected arsenic the olfactory analogue to television. That wasn’t for a deficiency of trying from immoderate artists. The John Waters movie Polyester came with scratch and sniff cards erstwhile it played successful theaters successful 1982. Numbers flashed connected surface passim the movie to awesome moviegoers to scratch the corresponding cards, with scents similar pizza, flowers, and flatulence meant to heighten the viewing experience.

Wine vessel  with scratch and sniff sticker.

Though Waters’s “Odorama” instrumentality ne'er went mainstream, it was utilized astatine slightest erstwhile much successful the movie Rugrats Go Wild (2003) astatine the tail-end of scratch and sniff mania 2 decades later. The gimmick was supposedly an homage to Waters, but the manager wasn’t flattered and adjacent threatened legal retaliation against Nickelodeon. 

Scratch and sniff products tin inactive beryllium recovered contiguous by those who cognize wherever to look. Nonetheless, they’re obscurity adjacent arsenic ubiquitous arsenic they were successful the 1980s. The displacement from carnal people media to integer hasn’t helped their popularity, but adjacent by the 1990s their novelty had waned. Like a pineapple-scented sticker connected a lunchbox, the fad was amusive portion it was fresh, but its entreaty wasn’t built to last.

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