Priming Effect and its Uses in Marketing

13 April 2023
Reading: 3 min

It is no secret that marketing has at all times used various psychological techniques and traps to attract and retain consumers. How do you get people to buy something they believe they don’t need? How do you make a person buy an item that is more expensive than its identical counterpart? You can solve such issues by working with the human psyche and exploiting some peculiarities of the human brain. Today we will discover such a phenomenon as priming and find out how marketers use it to make profit.

What is priming?

In psychology, priming is an implicit memory mechanism that provides unconscious and involuntary influence of some stimulus on perception of subsequent stimuli. Priming manifests itself in changes in speed or accuracy of reaction to subsequent stimuli or in spontaneous reproduction of the same stimulus in corresponding conditions. Stimuli can be similar images, similar words, emotionally charged situations, etc. 

Simply put, priming is a mechanism of the psyche that helps you spend less energy thinking about what’s going on by basing the processing of subsequent information on primary input.

The brain tends to interpret an event or information in the context of an earlier event or information. For example, if we are told that there is some advertiser engaged in shaving his affiliate marketers, then we would assume that he wants to scam us too if he offers us partnership. Or let’s say you hire an affiliate on your team, and the first thing they say about themselves is that they don’t like conflicts and try to get along with everyone. At the very least, you will wonder why they would say that, and you will be left with the impression that this person had some conflicts in their previous job. And that is how priming works.

Priming Effect and its Uses in Marketing

Types of Priming in Marketing

Of course, priming is widely and consciously used in advertising. Here are a few of the most common types of priming in marketing. Although the types of priming themselves have more or less clear definitions and boundaries, in life they can be mixed:

Emotional and Affective Priming

Emotional priming refers to the effect of an emotionally charged stimulus on subsequent actions or decision-making.

Affective priming involves evaluating people, ideas, objects, goods, etc. not only on the basis of the physical characteristics of these things, but also on the basis of the affective context. For example, neutral pictures presented after unpleasant pictures are perceived as more pleasant than those presented after pleasant pictures.

In our memory, information that is presented after or during an emotionally charged event gets “stuck” more firmly than information presented before it. For instance, if James Bond looks at his expensive watch before he says his signature phrase, we probably won’t pay close attention to the watch on his hand (unless it’s a close-up shot and we have no choice) — it would be a weak advertising move. But if we change the sequence of events, sales will go up.

Priming Effect and its Uses in Marketing

Positive and Negative Priming

Positive priming speeds up stimulus processing or increases the accuracy of that processing, but the opposite result, so-called negative priming, can also be achieved. Thus, a person will recognize stimuli that he or she should have previously ignored with less efficiency or more time, because he or she has developed the attitude of not noticing them.

It’s important to mention here that there can be both positive and negative priming, as it can help you understand why people don’t notice your advertising — they may have become accustomed to not noticing it.

Associative Priming

Associative priming uses similar ideas: patty — burger, love — wedding. Do you remember James Bond’s fancy cars? Yes, everyone who watched the “007” movies remembers them. These cars are associated with speed, luxury, and being cool. Imagine if someone completely uncharismatic, let’s say a stingy businessman-neurotic who has nothing interesting in life except negotiations and paperwork, was behind the wheel of one of these cars — you would hardly pay attention to his car because you don’t want to be like this person. This is an example of the effect of associative priming in advertising.

Use of Stereotypes

Stereotypes help the brain not to bother generating any new and complex judgments. For example, if you agree with two statements while reading a sales text, your brain thinks the information is true and tends to agree a third time, too. We have explored the stereotypical thinking that can also be referred to as “mental shortcuts” in greater detail.

Priming Effect and its Uses in Marketing

Unintentional Priming

Sometimes we unintentionally influence consumers’ perception of a product. Let’s say you’re running an advertisement for a Japanese cuisine restaurant, and somehow your ad banner ends up on a website about viruses and bacteria, warning about how easy it is to get E. coli by ordering untreated seafood. Your restaurant’s brand will definitely be remembered, but as something harmful and dangerous.

That’s why it is so crucial to know and control when, where and at what background your ads are published.

Final Thoughts

Many types of priming are used to increase sales. Some are intuitive, some are calculated. Preparing the context for a purchase is a standard move in advertising campaigns. First, we inform people about the problem, then we shape their attitude towards it, fixing the solution method. And then the product appears on the scene, containing the solution. When the audience is emotionally and cognitively prepared, the advertisement will elicit a greater response than if it were just another white noise. Try paying more attention to such details, and your conversions will increase significantly.

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