• Robb G. Best

Why Cinnabon is smarter than you and me combined

So somehow you find yourself stuck in the Mall of America, mannequins staring vacantly at you from all sides, dressed in the latest fashions, which like fruit flies, reach their full life cycle in less than 30 days. Quick, what do you do?

Of course: you duck into a Cinnabon, enticed by the sweet nectar of cinnamon and sugar wafting through the air, seductively calling your name. (Your first name in this case; Cinnabon marketers are that clever.) Normally, you resist temptation, but not this time--no, this time you find the buttery warm pastry gliding over your lips and hitting your taste buds faster then a Nolan Ryan fast ball.

You see, Cinnabon knows how your brain works. In particular, they know that all outside information is delivered to your brain through your five senses. And they know that smell is the only sense that doesn't go through any kind of filtering process. It is our most primitive and powerful sense.

And so it is no surprise the marketing geniuses at Cinnabon are able to play us like a cheap violin.

First, they try to avoid locating their stores in the food court. Since smell is their music, they don't want to be drowned out by the cacophony of noise from the rest of the smelly fast food riffraff. You can usually find Cinnabon lurking on the mall's second floor, far from the pedestrian odors of the taco and burger wannabes.

If the marketing masters at Cinnabon can't escape the food court, they make their play for what's known in the business as the "end cap," store location near the entrance of the food court. So worst case scenario, at least the first smell that grabs your olfactory receptors is that of their dough infused sugar.

Sense manipulation is essentially the backbone of marketing. It works so effectively because sensory information is how memory gets built. When your brain records a memory, it's built around what's known as sensory markers. The more markers, the more powerful and lasting the memory. It's why you've had that experience of driving down the road when a song comes on the radio and immediately transports you back to some time and place. Suddenly, you can recall the conversation, the sights, and yes, possibly even the smells. The audio from the song serves as the marker to replay that particular memory.

For soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, what they are experiencing is the white hot overloading of their senses during battle. The sensory markers that get tucked in with memory of the horror are so powerful that the memory tape loop is essentially stuck in the on position.

Science has not progressed to that scene in the Men in Black movie where a quick glance at a pen sized light gizmo wipes clean the sensory markers from your hippocampus.

That's probably a good thing. Although, after a spending a day in the Mall of America (Minnesota boasts that it's the largest mall in the US, which I think is akin to boasting your child is the most obese kid in grade school), sometimes you hunger for that laser pen. It might be nice to have the mall experience expunged from your memory--or at the very least, erase the 813 calories and 5,500 mg of sugar Cinnabon has just delivered through your lips to your hips.


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