Aroma Disc: The ’80s high-tech version of scented candles

Vintage Aroma Disc machine from 1986

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Spinnin’ the (sniff, sniff) Aroma Disc: High-tech version of scented candles is year’s holiday gift hit

Excerpted from an article by Judy Rose, Detroit Free Press (Michigan) Dec 29, 1983

Four busy people with other things to do sat watching a little plastic box with a fake chrome face and red, glowing light. For a minute or two, nothing happened, then — voila! — a puff of scented smoke.

The group was testing Aroma Disc, “the next frontier in home entertainment,” according to its promoters, and a six-week success story in giftware marketing.

The little machine, which costs about $20, will play your choice of nearly 40 fragrance “records,” enriching your room, so they say, with scents of an ocean breeze, a hayride or an after-dinner mint.

Records cost about $1.50 for a short-play album (about 30 two-minute plays) or about $4 for a long-playing album, which can be used about 150 times.

That may sound like the kind of fly-by-night product you’d see in a 2 a.m. TV commercial, between ads for a miracle vegetable dicer and Ace Cannon’s greatest hits, but consider this: Aroma Disc came from no less than Charles of the Ritz, and just six weeks after hitting the market, the fragrant little record player rivaled the Cabbage Patch Kids doll as a holiday hit.

“I THINK we’re looking at this year’s Pet Rock,” said Gretchen Snow of Hudson’s, where the entire stock of 600 machines sold out in the first week.

The two most popular scents at Hudson’s have been Seduction and Passion, followed by Movie Time, the smell of buttered popcorn.

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“When Charles of the Ritz presented this product to us in New York, the whole room full of 30 people just cracked up,” said Larry Cassar, group merchandise manager for Sears.

But no one at Sears is laughing now. After Ritz representatives demonstrated the machines in five Michigan Sears stores, “we got none left,” Cassar said. “You know where we can get some?”

Aroma Disc The '80s high-tech version of scented candles

“ALMOST EVERY store that has carried it sold out their initial order,” said Barbara Carver, vice-president of business development for Charles of the Ritz. The ritzy manufacturer sniffs at comparisons between Aroma Disc and its shabbier relatives — scented candles, scratch-and-sniff, room sprays.

“These are much more complicated fragrances than have ever been used for room fragrancing,” said Carver. “We try to get as close as possible to the natural components.” So the fragrance “Fireplace,” for example, includes “notes” (a perfumer’s word for the elements that make up a scent) of burning cedar logs, ashes and sap. “Ocean Breeze” includes not only notes of algae and brine, but a dash of decaying fish.

WITH THAT KIND of bait, the Free Press set out to entice persons of known good taste and humor to join a product-testing panel…

Given 10 scents to pick from, the panelists chose seven and arranged them in a scenario suggesting a night of romance — “Oriental Mystery,” followed by “Fireplace,” “Seduction,” “Passion,” “Mountain Top,” “Ocean Breeze,” “After Dinner Mint.”

In honor of the holiday season, they added “Christmas Tree” for a finale. Then they rated the scents from 1 to 5, with 1 meaning they hated it, 5 meaning they loved it and 3 meaning they could take it or leave it.

The hands-down favorite was “Seduction,” a light, musk-based scent, which scored 4.5. Its heavier relative, “Passion,” scored three points. Some panelists liked “Passion” a lot; others objected to the flower notes.

The good-idea-gone-mad award went to “Ocean Breeze,” awarded the lowest possible score, a 1, by every panelist. Charles of the Ritz was far too successful at duplicating the odor of decaying fish, group members said, making the scent a technical triumph but an aesthetic bomb.

A HINT for buyers: It was the lingering after-smell, not the first blast out of the machine, that our testers found pleasant in most cases. The Aroma Disc machine is designed to put out strong scent for two or three minutes, then cut back to a much lower level. Our panel’s final advice is: If you’re putting on the Ritz, use the machine before, not during, the activity planned; Wait till it goes on sale.

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Aroma Disc The '80s high-tech version of scented candles

Aroma Disc scent diffuser TV commercial (1984)

YouTube video

ALSO SEE: How the Pet Rock was one of the hottest novelty products of the 1970s

Aroma Disc – The electric room freshener. There’s no better gift to clear the air. 

Just plug it in. Turn it on. And insert one of our 23 fragrance records. The Aroma Disc Player fragrance diffuser will release fine vapors of fragrance into the air — silently and more effectively than any other air freshener system you can buy. Period.

And the scents are all fresh, all appealing. Just like our offer. For $14.95 we send you the air freshener unit with three free records.

Then to refresh your home – throughout the year, we’ll automatically send you three records every six weeks at $10.50 per shipment plus postage and handling.

Naturally, the Aroma Disc Player comes with a money-back guarantee and you may cancel the records anytime you wish.

Retro Aroma Disc machine from 1986

ALSO SEE: Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific shampoo & conditioner (’70s-’80s)

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