Heaven Scent: Hasbro Trademarks Iconic Childhood Smell of Play-Doh



The nostalgia-inducing smell of PLAY-DOH compound is now one of few active scent trademarks in the U.S.

According to Hasbro, its iconic PLAY-DOH scent, known and loved by fans around the world, has been officially recognized by the United States Patent and Trademark Office as a registered trademark of the brand.

The trademarked scent, which Hasbro formally describes as “a unique scent formed through the combination of a sweet, slightly musky, vanilla-like fragrance, with slight overtones of cherry, and the natural smell of a salted, wheat-based dough,” makes the PLAY-DOH brand one of the few successful—and certainly most famous—scent trademarks in the U.S.

“The scent of PLAY-DOH compound has always been synonymous with childhood and fun,” stated Jonathan Berkowitz, SVP of Global Marketing for the PLAY-DOH brand. “By officially trademarking the iconic scent, we are able to protect an invaluable point of connection between the brand and fans for years to come.”

Making Scents of Trademarks

It’s surprisingly difficult to trademark a scent in America. According to The Wall Street Journal, “In the U.S., you have to show that a fragrance serves no important practical function other than to help identify and distinguish a brand.” This means that a product whose purpose is only smell-related—like perfume or air fresheners—cannot receive the protection of a scent trademark.

Also, trademark applications have to be smelled by a government examiner, so samples must be provided. As a U.S. trademark official told WSJ, “If an examiner’s nose isn’t working, the attorney would have to find a supervisor to do the sniffing.”

Among the handful of U.S. scent trademarks that have been awarded, Verizon’s lawyers managed to trademark a “flowery musk scent” in 2014 that it intended to pump into the wireless carrier’s bigger “marquee” retail stores. The application argued that the smell would help distinguish its stores from those belonging to “other communications and consumer electronics retailers in an increasingly crowded field.”

It’s also not easy to trademark a scent mark beyond the U.S., either. As an argument published by International Trademark Association in 2012 noted, “Scent marks are more problematic than visual trademarks as they are defined subjectively and are therefore open to interpretation. The complications that arise from human perceptions of odors lead to the argument that subjective views are inadequate when determining whether the scent mark functions as a trademark. In relation to a successful registration, scent marks are arguably one of the most difficult types to represent graphically (and some trademark offices have questioned the ability of these ‘marks’ to be represented graphically).”

Smelling an Opportunity

When Hasbro filed to trademark PLAY-DOH’s scent in 2017, one of its attorneys commented that the scent, which has been the same since 1955, is “one of the best-known, most unique and instantly recognizable scent trademarks in the world, and… has developed an enormous amount of goodwill with consumers.” In approving its scent trademark, the USPTO has clearly agreed that the scent is distinctive but also sufficiently non-functional.

Since the PLAY-DOH brand’s inception in 1956, the distinctive smell has consistently served as a hallmark of the brand, and after more than six decades providing children with a source of imaginative and creative play, the scent has become increasingly recognizable among children, parents and grandparents alike.

Throughout its history, the “recipe” for PLAY-DOH compound has remained largely unchanged, ensuring the scent fans smell when opening a can of PLAY-DOH compound, is the same scent many grew up with and now enjoy alongside their own children or grandchildren.

Passing the Sniff Test

Hasbro is celebrating the PLAY-DOH brand’s newly-registered scent by inviting fans to celebrate their favorite childhood memories the smell of PLAY-DOH evokes for them using the hashtag #PLAYDOHSCENT.

This spring, stop and smell the (Play-Doh) flowers

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Hasbro is a global play and entertainment company committed to “Creating the World’s Best Play Experiences.” From toys and games to television, movies, digital gaming and consumer products, Hasbro offers a variety of ways for audiences to experience its iconic brands, including NERF, MY LITTLE PONY, TRANSFORMERS, PLAY-DOH, MONOPOLY, BABY ALIVE and MAGIC: THE GATHERING.