Synaesthetic marketing in action

Carlos Velasco

How we co-created with a chef, a sculptor, interactive dandelions, and the sound of dripping water to reach 10,000 people with our marketing campaign.

Co-written by Damien Hughes, Marketing Manager, Oxford University Press & Marianna Obrist, Professor, University College London

Synaesthetic marketing is all about transfer of sensations. If you want to create a specific customer experience, say, a luxurious one, what follows is a series of questions, such as: What does luxury taste like? Sound like? Feel like? And so on.

You also consider the extent to which the different senses align, with questions such as: What does the sound of luxury taste like? Feel like? So that the different sensory elements (such as colour, tastes, and textures) aligned with each other and deliver a compelling luxury experience.

This kind of marketing is inspired by a rare condition, synaesthesia, whereby stimulation of one sense leads to experiences in a second sense. For example, synaesthetes may see colours and experience sounds or taste certain flavours and experience sounds.

It has been attributed to artists such as Wassily Kandinsky or musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, that their inspiration often came from their synaesthesia.

A very different marketing campaign

Researchers and practitioners have considered how such phenomenon can inspire the design of customer experiences. Either in the form of metaphor (Skittles’ “Taste the Rainbow” lines) or crossmodal associations (say, between sharp shapes and carbonation, as embodied in San Pellegrino’s red star), many brands capitalize on synaesthetic marketing to design experiences.

What does a brand association taste like, feel like, smell like, and so on? The answers to these questions can provide key insight into customer experience design.

Before we published the book “Multisensory experiences: Where the senses meet technology” (Oxford University Press) in September 2020, we decided to develop an expectations campaign that would rise awareness about it and end in the virtual launch of our book.

But how do you develop an expectations campaign for a book that is about multisensory experiences, that is, impressions whose sensory elements have been carefully crafted by someone?

We decided to live up to the book mission statement: Impressions can be designed by considering the sensory worlds that we live in. In this article, we tell you how we did it by capitalizing on synaesthetic marketing.

The book expectations campaign

Taking inspiration from synesthetic marketing (see the step-by-step in Figure 1), we worked together with four researchers and practitioners from different specialized areas in order to represent the sound, feel, look, and taste of our book in order to communicate its contents, through different senses.


Figure 1. The process of synaesthetic marketing for an expectations campaign. In the upper part, we present the general step-by-step process, and below, how we implemented it.

We sent the first chapter of the book to each of them and asked them to represent it in a given sense (see Figure 2). For example, we sent the following message to the sound expert:

“We're contacting people from different arts/backgrounds/industries to help us create multisensory representations of the book. So in your case, it would be great if you could help us create a ‘musical representation’ that answers to the question "What does the book sound like?" – starting with Chapter 1. This is in line with synaesthetic design, and it's about transferring sensations from one sensory source (e.g., book) to another (e.g., sound).”


Figure 2. Synaesthetic creations for the book “Multisensory experiences: Where the senses meet technology”: A) A visual representation of the sound creation of Prof. Atau Tanaka, B) Prof. Patrizia Marti’s interactive dandelion, C) Susanne K Johansen’s "Imagine A book" sculpture, and D) is Chef Jozef Youssef’s 'Ink and paper' dish.

The creations

Prof. Atau Tanaka (Goldsmiths University of London, UK), who works at the intersection of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Computer Music, represented the sound of our book.

His sound representation was captured through Orchestra of Rocks, a project initiated by the artist Uta Kögelsberger as a response to the ecological crisis, where the raw materials, recordings of water dripping in a cave in the Lake District, have been transposed across space and sense (listen here).

Prof. Patrizia Marti (University of Siena, Italy), who works on designing systems facing cultural, aesthetic and social issues through embodied experiences, represented the feel of our book. Her creation was an interactive dandelion.

In nature the dandelion is an edible and playful flower, when you blow on the dried petals they fly away. Her dandelion has a similar behaviour when you blow on the petals they light up (see a video here).

Visual artist Susanne K. Johansen (Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo, Norway), who examines the connection between body, mind and soul through medium and materials, represented the book through a sculpture.

Her sculpture, entitled "Imagine A book", a stream of visual memories that pulsates through the body's system. Sound, smell, sight and textures are brought to life by words and sentences, making you discover bits and pieces of the unknown. Material: Clay, unfired (see more photographs of the sculpture here).

Chef Jozef Youssef (Kitchen Theory, UK), the creative force behind Kitchen Theory in London, and his team, represented the taste of our book.

The dish creation, entitled 'Ink and paper', explores the notion of transferring sensations from one sensory source to another, as well as exploring the texture, sound, aroma and visual elements that represent the experience of ‘consuming’ a book. You can learn more about the dish and its recipe here.

The communication plan

Once we received the different creations, we implemented a communication plan on social media over a period of one month.

This plan involved several posts every 4 days approximately in which we presented the creations, encouraged people to experience our book through the different creations, and invited them to sign up for the book launch on the event management site Eventbrite.

We tagged the creators as well as different interested stakeholders that are leaders in their online communities. In addition, BI Norwegian Business School, University College London, and Oxford University Press amplified our posts and communications through their social media channels.

Finally, we received the book endorsements of four experts, which we also used in the communications on social media. All these communications can be accessed on the book’s social media accounts (@multisensoryexp on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube).

Reaching 10,000 people

Only over 300 people signed up to our Eventbrite event, and we initially expected less than that, considering that more people usually register than attend. However, we had over 2000 people attending the live virtual launch.

We feel that the number of people who attended the launch event, and also the amount of views the recording has received since has validated the strategy developed for the expectations and awareness plan, the dedicated channels we built and the content that was created to build an audience and keep it engaged in the lead up to the event.

In total, we reached around 10,000 people with the event, both raising awareness of the discipline of multisensory experiences and the book.

The launch has also become a case study for the marketing team at Oxford University Press (OUP), as many of the aspects of this event were new to the team.

The idea of having the event hosted by a chef, in this case chef Pablo Naranjo Agular, who cooked a dish during the book launch was hugely novel and engaging, and OUP are exploring the ways in which they can add multisensory elements to other product launches and broader marketing activities.

Designing different customer experiences

Determining the extent to which the synaesthetic contents of the expectations campaign contributed to the overall attendance and results, considering that there were multiple other efforts, as described.

In addition, it might be difficult to figure out whether this campaign was especially suited for the kind of product promoted. However, not only our launch results were surprising but we are still being surprised by the interest that our campaign has sparked (with new multiple events coming out and word-of-mouth taking place on social media).

Synaesthetic marketing can be used to guide customer experience design, and multiple brands are capitalizing on it, regardless of whether they are aware of it.

As market competition increases and brands find it more difficult to compete visually, synaesthetic experiences can provide a key means for differentiation.


Haverkamp, M. (2012). Synesthetic design: Handbook for a multi-sensory approach. Walter de Gruyter.

Spence, C. (2013). Synaesthetic marketing: Cross sensory selling that exploits unusual neural cues is finally coming of age. The Wired World in, 2012-2013, 104-107.

Spence, C., Youssef, J., & Deroy, O. (2015). Where are all the synaesthetic chefs?. Flavour, 4:1.

Velasco, C., Naranjo, P., & Veflen, N. (2019). Awaken your senses: What can marketers learn from chefs?. BI Business Review. BI Norwegian Business School, Norway.

Published 16. November 2020

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