An artist has targeted Apple fans' excitement at unboxing new purchases by recreating their smell, Sean Rintel writes for The Conversation.
20 Apr 2012 - 2:27 PM  UPDATED 26 Aug 2013 - 10:48 AM

Published in collaboration with The Conversation, a website that features commentary, research and analysis from Australian universities and the CSIRO.

They're thanking you for the free advertising supplied by this article, and around 7,500 like it, reporting on Air Aroma's replication of the fragrance of an Apple MacBook Pro for an exhibition by Melbourne artists Greatest Hits, opening today.

The artists sent a new MacBook Pro to Air Aroma who went to work creating a fragrance reminiscent of plastics, paint, paper and aluminium.


At its core, the story represents the sweet smell of a highly successful viral earned media campaign, in which free media attention is drawn to a promotional stunt (as opposed to paying for advertising).

It combines the built-in fanboy/girl audience for an Apple story – any Apple story – with the potential for a more general audience because it's also a feel-good story about technology and art: we can all chuckle at those kooky modern artists.

Air Aroma's blog post explaining the stunt was all the Apple blogs needed to send the story viral in social media, after which it was noticed by the mainstream media. Greatest Hits, the West Space gallery and Air Aroma scored direct attention, and Apple scored indirect attention. That being said, why should this particular smell garner such attention?

Greatest Hits' De Facto Standard exhibition is an artistic statement about technology and consumer culture. The smell of a just-opened MacBook Pro represents an interesting de facto standard.

Many Apple products are de facto standards in their class – think iPads, iPhones and iPods – but Steve Jobs was famous for demanding that the design for both products and packaging be beautiful and iconic. Not just de facto standard, then, but also the gold standard.

The combination of the famous cultishness of Apple users with this notion of gold standard iconic design at all levels has led Apple products to be among the most popular for the uniquely geeky practice of “unboxing”.


Unboxing is geek porn. Video or picture sets are taken of a packaging striptease, from a sealed box, through each petticoat of plastic and garter of twist-tie, to the virginal-yet-nubile gadget itself. For an outsider, it's an excruciatingly slow process.

For geeks, it's a study of form meeting function. Videos on sites such as are typically three minutes long, but can be a long as half an hour, as was the case for a 10-year-old, sealed 20th anniversary Mac.

These videos are a particularly potent form of earned media, because they are self-perpetuating. As long as a company continues to produce interesting devices in interesting packaging, the videos reinforce attention to the company.

Further, since the unboxing phenomenon is not limited to the products of one company, companies that aim to compete for iconic status must produce packaging worthy of the fetish. But even failures reinforce the general sense of excitement of the unboxing ritual, the particular brand and brand competition.

Unboxing is not limited to gadgets. Software, new books (especially those in series such as Harry Potter and Twilight) or really any consumer good can become an item of worship with an accompanying revelatory event.

And, of course, media outlets will report on such events if they are large, widespread, or, as in this case, kooky.

The “new Mac” smell is prized among Apple users, and especially unboxing afficionados. It is common to all unboxings and it clearly has cultural links to the “new car” smell that gets many people's motors' racing. As such, the “Eau de MacBook” episode is a textbook case of leveraging the base desires of Apple fans to create media attention.

Of the groups involved, only Apple could afford to pay for such attention, but it doesn't have to – it just needs to keep bringing sexy back.

Acknowledgment: the concepts of self-perpetuating earned media and media event worship were developed in consultation with Dr Susan McKay.

The Conversation