Shuji Fujita: AROMASTIC is a new product born of Sony's Seed Acceleration Program (SAP). It takes the form of a compact personal aroma diffuser that can be held in one hand. It offers a new way of changing your mood using aromas that suit a particular moment or mood in your life when, for example, you wish to concentrate or relax. The special cartridge contains five aromas that can be selected instantly by simply turning the dial. Since it uses an air flow diffusion method known as the "dry air method" to give off the scents without using any heat, it does not disseminate the aroma to fill the available space like conventional aroma diffusers. Instead, it allows you alone to enjoy the scent, just as headphones allow you to enjoy music yourself.
For a long time, I have wanted to create products that excite people by appealing to the five senses. However, the hurdles to developing such products is very high because many products that appeal to the sight and hearing have already been developed, while taste is an altogether different domain because it involves putting things in the mouth. This led me to focus on the sense of smell. Since Sony and most other electronics companies in the world had yet to venture into the area of products that appeal to the sense of smell, I believed there was some value in taking up this challenge. When we created an AROMASTIC prototype, I was astonished to find that aromas changed my mood much more than I had expected. This convinced me that scents had the potential to provide people with excitement, a distinctively Sony entertainment characteristic. Up until then, I had been thinking in terms of products that combined images and sound with aromas, but I decided to aim for a portable aromatherapy product that used aromas alone to please people.
Shuji Fujita: My ideas on creating a product that is not gender-centric arose as part of the development process when I visited the scent sales floor at a department store during a survey on aromas. At that stage, I still had a strong impression that scents were the province of women only, but when I was faced with a wide variety of aromas, I fully understood how even a male like myself might appreciate their benefits. I realized that men like good aromas and that there are no gender-based boundaries to the values such aromas convey. During my visit to aroma sales floors, I also noticed that the customers were overwhelmingly women. I felt so out of place that when one of the sales staff approached me, I impulsively told her that I was looking for a present instead of something for myself. I actually want men to freely enjoy aromas as well. That is why I decided to make AROMASTIC a unisex product that anyone can use. Some of the male customers who have actually purchased AROMASTIC and carry it with them say they have noticed there are surprisingly many occasions in their daily lives when they would like to change their mood. Since most men are not generally conscious of scents, it could be that aromas convey some kind of refreshing surprise. I believe that AROMASTIC has become a trigger to uncovering a new need for aromas.
Oe: The tag line we developed for AROMASTIC is "My switch to the aroma of my choice." It may be that there are certain differences between men and women when it comes to changing their mood, such as wanting to refresh themselves, or concentrate. However, I believe the value of a product that allows people to change their mood by switching scents themselves resonates with both men and women. To make the product as gender-free as possible, we adopted a simple design that conveys a neutral image. In our promotions, moreover, we used two key visual patterns featuring men and women to emphasize the product's gender-free characteristics. When we conducted an Internet survey using these two key visual approaches, we learned that high proportions of men and women clicked on the male and female visuals, respectively. I believe that preparing visuals for males enabled them to identify the product as something they could use themselves.
Shuji Fujita: While AROMASTIC was conceived as a gender-independent product, women who habitually enjoy scents and account for the vast majority of aroma users are, of course, an extremely important target. We were therefore highly proactive in enlisting the sorts of opinions and concepts that only women can offer during the development and promotion processes. The "Winter beauty kit" resembling a cosmetic coffret kit proposed by Takekura-san, one of our project team members, comprised a carrying case decorated with Swarovski® crystals, and a mini tote bag carrying the AROMASTIC logo. Packed with so many features attractive to women, her proposal was very well-received.
Inoue: In fact, I was thinking in terms of planning this as a Christmas kit when Takekura-san suggested that if we were aiming for the Christmas season, we should create a kit that resembled a Christmas cosmetic coffret. Initially, I had no idea what "coffret kit" meant. As a male, I was unable to come up with a concept like this, and I reckon the other male members of the team were the same. Once again, I felt just how important it was to accept opinions from various viewpoints for expanding a product's potential.
Takekura: As a working mother bringing up two children, I'm constantly under time pressures, and I find that AROMASTIC is perfect for quickly changing my mood or helping me relax. In fact, when I recommended AROMASTIC to other Moms, they were delighted and they are now keen users who carry it with them at all times. As it happens, I am a member of an unofficial group called the "Sony Mamas' Liaison Group," and I have asked the members to try AROMASTIC with a view to using their opinions for reference in further developing it in the future. Almost all the members have showed interest in AROMASTIC, and have cooperated gladly. I believe that of all the products that Sony has created so far, this one will probably turn out to be the biggest appeal among women.
Aya Fujita: We have incorporated many comments from outside the company, as well as from various departments within the company. We asked aromatherapists from Neal's Yard Remedies, a long-established British retailer of organic cosmetics, to supervise the cartridge scents, and garnered opinions from aroma professional through sales of the AROMASTIC main unit and cartridges via actual stores and online shops. Project members also have experience of in-store sales in department stores and shopping centers, as well as electronics stores. Coming into direct contact with customers provided us with invaluable opinions that would not normally be accessible. I truly felt that people's values differ widely when I saw some customers rushing into the store to buy cartridges before going to work, while others were astonished that Sony sold aroma products.
Shuji Fujita: We also adopted suggestions from the manufacturing department. AROMASTIC is manufactured by Sony Global Manufacturing & Operations Corporation at its plant in Koda Town, Aichi Prefecture. The personnel in charge of quality assurance (QA) there asked to carry out their own aroma evaluation tests because it is the company's own product. The members gathered together voluntarily to undergo training in aromatics from Neal's Yard Remedies, and those who passed the internal examinations now evaluate the aromas themselves. The plant usually manufactures Sony digital cameras, but its personnel have gone outside their area of expertise to study scents so enthusiastically that the lecturers from Neal's Yard Remedies were apparently very impressed, saying that the quality of the seminars was unprecedented.
Inoue: I participated in the project because I wanted to make the most of my specialty, mechanical design. As we were a small group, however, I also had to take charge of work that was outside my usual duties. I faced quite a few difficulties because I was working outside my specialty, but I get the feeling that my involvement in these areas enabled me to generate a wider range of useful ideas and concepts than usual.
Shuji Fujita: Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to aromas, so when people feel differently about the same scents, I feel they are also searching for something different. In particular, since AROMASTIC appeals to our sensitivities, I believe we need a wider range of perspectives if we are to develop it further. Eventually, we would like to market the product in other region, so we will need to incorporate the opinions of people in other countries. As people overseas are more familiar with aromas than people in Japan, we intend to take up the challenge of providing them with more ideas for new forms of aroma entertainment.