Counting on scents to lure expats

‘Scents of Home’, comes in three aromas – Highveld ThunderstormZulu Leather and Karoo Stoep.

[Image] Of those who participated in the survey, 67% acknowledged that the fragrances evoked nostalgia for South Africa, and made them want to return home.
(Images: Homecoming Revolution)

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Brigitte Britten-Kelly
Homecoming Revolution
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Cadine Pillay

What do South Africans think of when they think of their country?

Some may recall a good old-fashioned South African braai (barbecue) on a Sunday afternoon, with a bottle of red wine from the world-famous Cape Winelands. For others, it may be camping trips in the bushveld and the rich smell that emanates from the damp ground after it rains.

However, while many who live in the country may experience these scenarios often, they are merely distant thoughts for South Africans living abroad, who have nothing tangible to trigger memories of home.

The Homecoming Revolution – a non-profit organisation that encourages South Africans around the world to return home, and helps those who wish to – has created a fragrance range geared at this group to help them connect with smells linked to typically South African experiences.

Smells like home

The sense of smell in humans can discriminate among tens of thousands of different aromas. More importantly, scent can be a powerful memory trigger, so what better way to remind someone of home than with familiar smells of their childhood?

The Homecoming Revolution’s fragrance range, aptly called Scents of Home, comes in three aromas – Highveld Thunderstorm, Zulu Leather and Karoo Stoep. The fragrances were sampled in London in what proved to be a successful campaign involving South Africans who reside there.

In an effort to help remind London-based expats what they were missing back home, the scents were flown to the city in June, and so began a sampling trial where participants were given scented wands as wristbands to take home. Of those who participated, 67% acknowledged that the fragrances evoked nostalgia for South Africa, and made them want to return home.

The initiative was a collaboration with Aroma Logo, a company that designs logos with scented branding, to re-create these smells. Homecoming Revolution’s ideal goal is to feature these scented logos in custom-built air conditioners for places frequented by expats, including South African embassies around the world, events like expos, and recreational facilities like restaurants and shops.

Campaign directors Toni-Lee Cheiman and Jonathan Campbell of Morrisjones, a branding and design company that describes their work as ‘allvertising’, said at this stage there are no plans to mass-produce or sell the fragrances.

Homecoming Revolution is, however, taking suggestions for additional favourite scents on Twitter –@HomecomingRev #MyFavouriteSASmell – in the hope of furthering the fragrance range.

Bringing them back home

The Homecoming Revolution was founded in 2003 by Angel Jones, who is herself a former expat, and is funded by First National Bank.

“Our research has shown that many returnees comment on the ‘familiar smell of home’ that fills their nostrils as they step off the airplane,” said Jones.

“So we decided to bottle these smells and take them to London, an area densely populated by South African expats.”

She added that people return home mainly for emotional reasons, and in the view of Homecoming Revolution, what better way is there to help make up their minds than with an emotional memory of home.

When asked what he loved most about South Africa, Kwanele Radebe – who moved back to South Africa after four years in the UK – named the weather and the landscape, both potent factors pertaining to the Scents of Home collection.

“I remember how the smallest photo of an African sunset, or a pride of lions would make me so homesick that it actually took my breath away,” said another former expat Ainsley Hay.

“Even in winter, the sun still shines. The smell of fresh rain on dusty soil still stops me in my tracks.

“The familiar chatter of a family of bulbuls in my garden can amuse me endlessly. The ease of friendly interactions with people from all walks of life. And the absolute joy of being so close to family and old friends has not lost its novelty.”

Hay’s decision to return home, she said, was triggered at a Homecoming Revolution expo where Western Cape premier Helen Zille and rugby legend Francois Pienaar spoke with passion and warmth, discussing both the pros and cons of living in South Africa.

“I can now happily say my soul and my body are leaving the same footprints in the African dust,” Hay said.