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Remember All the Senses
Inspiration from Vincent Price, Elmer Fudd, and Rembrandt.
Vincent Price’s name is synonymous with Gothic horror. He famously said, “It’s as much fun to scare as it is to be scared.”
But Price’s interests went beyond the sense of fear. He was an art collector and consultant who earned a degree in art history and opened his own gallery. He had roles that spanned the stage, radio, television, film, and animation. He was even a gourmet cook with a cookbook to his name.
But it was one of his cult classic films that really brought his sense of horror to life.
In 1959, Vincent Price teamed up with the director William Castle to makes one of the most camp, carnivalesque horror masterpieces of that decade, The House on Haunted Hill.
But the lesser-known follow-up The Tingler went even farther with a classic “mad scientist” role.
The film follows Price’s pathologist Dr. Chapin and his research into how the spine “tingles” when experiencing fear. He discovers this is caused by a parasite that attaches itself to the spine which, if scared badly enough, will grow and eventually kill its host.
The only antidote is screaming — the louder the better — to neutralize the terrifying effects of “the tingler.”
The film begins with an onscreen appearance by the director, who warns his audience that the physical sensation of tingling so central to the movie may also be experienced by some people in the theater.
In reality, this was caused by one of Castle’s most famous gimmicks — electrified buzzing gadgets that had been placed underneath random audience members’ seats. The Tingler's shadow was shown across the screen, as if it was loose in the projection booth. The audience was warned, and then…ZAP!
Trashy, outrageous, and proudly silly, Castle was a true master of understanding the centrality of sensory effect to the horror experience. He knew that horror was as much — if not more — a physical experience as an intellectual or emotional one.
The Sound of Travel
If you ever took an Amtrak train through a major station on the East coast, you may have heard the soft flipping of the split-flap schedule board that used to inhabit train stations in Boston, New York, Newark, and Baltimore, and is preparing to be retired in Philadelphia.
It’s visceral. And it was an important part of the rail travel experience. The same way a used bookstore provides a sensory experience that a Kindle cannot.
Humans are sensory creatures, and we experience books by smell as well as by sight and touch; similarly, travel includes sounds as well as sights.
The board updating was a reminder — in those days before the dings and buzzes of smartphone reminders — to look up and the board and check the status of your train.
But more than an analog travel assistant, that soft flipping was a visceral component of the commuter's experience, just as the clickety-clack of the rails was.
It made up part of the romanticized image of rail travel that brings us back to a more genteel, sophisticated time of travel (or at least that's what our imagination tells us). Grand temples of transportation. Well-dressed individuals. Gate attendants and stewards who weren't quite as surly. When travel was less of a rush and more of a joy.
Whether or not that image is true, it occupies a place in our minds. And the removal of the Solari board at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station takes us one step further away from it.
Now we have to be satisfied with travel alerts that ding and buzz in our pockets on our smartphones.
Perhaps one day, our children will romanticize that experience in turn.
“But there can be no grave for Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson...Shall they not always live in Baker Street? Are they not there this moment, as one writes? Outside, the hansoms rattle through the rain, and Moriarty plans his latest devilry. Within, the sea-coal flames upon the hearth and Holmes and Watson take their well-won case...So they still live for all that love them well; in a romantic chamber of the heart, in a nostalgic country of the mind, where it is always 1895.” — Vincent Starrett, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
I'm Sensing Something
The good news is there are a few brands that understand the power of many senses and are working to incorporate more into their marketing and promotions.
McCain Foods, the frozen food manufacturer, is installing the smell of baked potatoes to 10 bus stops around the U.K. as part of its £1.4 million push for Ready Made Jackets.
At several movie theaters across the U.S., the ads really smell — like cinnamon rolls. Pillsbury is pumping the delicious scent into 25 theaters as part of a campaign that attempts to spark sales for its refrigerated dough by linking cinnamon roll smells to holiday memories.
Hey, who would have thought that Elmer Fudd would have predicted the advent of Smellevision in 1940?
Remember scratch and sniff books when you were a kid? Well, they're back, but this time in magazine ads for household items, cleaners, medicines and more.
If we can appeal to more than one sense at a time, we stand a good chance to win not only hearts and minds, but memories.
And as memories are linked to experiences, we'll be calling upon powerful emotions that can better engage our customers.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.