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What is priming

We assume that we are rational beings. However, we frequently make irrational choices that don’t agree with an idea. How else can you explain Las Vegas being full all the time?  Behavioural economics uses psychological understanding to explain why all too often we make irrational decisions.

Simply said, rational cognition uses a lot of our mental power and we just don’t have the time or energy to process all everyday tasks in our lives consciously. So our brain simply uses shortcuts, predefined rules and biases that help us guide our choices in a more effective manner. We are not aware of these undetected guidelines that shape our behaviour. At least not consciously. However, our nervous system often communicates with us via gut feeling. We commonly miss this kind of message and sometimes we cannot even explain why do we feel or act in a particular way. Behavioural economics can. In the past few decades, scientist and researchers have explored the human behaviour so we can understand better our customers. What we need as marketers is a perspective in an attempt to understand how the mind really works. Priming is one of the examples of how the subconscious affects our behaviour.


Exactly what is priming?


The majestic power of our mind is undeniable, even though we do not know so much about our brain and whole human nervous system in general. One of the most intriguing processes in our mind is priming. This brain’s ability to unconsciously connect dotes has given us the most important marketing concept – Branding.

On a daily basis, people are exposed to numerous stimuli, ranging from colours and smells to sounds and words, that could potentially activate different cognitive constructs and influence their actions. This type of influence on human behaviour is referred to as priming.  Behavioural priming refers to the notion that exposing people to an external stimulus activates a mental construct associated with this stimulus, which may, in turn, affect overt behaviour without the actor necessarily being aware of this influence. ( Dario Krpan, Frontiers in Psychology )

Priming is a process where our brain creates a certain pattern and unconscious connection between stimuli and  “exposure to prime increases the accessibility of information already existing in the memory”.

Nobel winner Daniel Kahneman says an effective prime needs to be strong enough to impact behaviour, but not so strong that it enters conscious thought – the effect must remain subconscious. For me, Pink will always be an artist and performer but for someone, it will be colour. The difference in our answers will come due to different priming in past. Similarly, leaving the gaps between words spelling can give us different associations. We may see “FIN_ER” and either think of Finder or Finger. But if we tell you to count the fingers on your hand and then give you this takes to fill out a missing letter – Due to the previous priming, there is more chance that you will name Finger over Finder. So we may conclude that you are susceptible to priming. If it so, then priming can be used to derive certain cognitive associations. In this article, we will go through Priming as a process and talk about cognitive behaviour.

Are we able to do the free-thinking? It is clear that events in past may shape our thinking of today. Priming happens quietly in our subconscious and still – appears in our concerns actions and decisions. Is priming out of our control? The intuitive part of our brain is the one which deliveries priming. System 1 is automatic and fast part of our brain which often takes control and shapes our behaviour and decisions. What is interesting for us as a marketer is that this means people actually do knot know their behaviour. And that why concerns part of the brain a.k.a System 2 answerers polls and marketing focus group questions while System 1 is in charge of the action. Most of the time, people are completely unaware that their behaviour has been managed by Priming. We tend to appreciate our conscious self, believing that our daily lives are governed by conscious choices. Don’t be afraid, priming has duration. After 20 minutes, we may consider that priming has worn off.




As technology has progressed, we are able to learn more and more about the human brain and mind. Brain mapping has presented our findings relevant for examination of the unconscious. Different regions of brain deliver different corresponding behaviour. When you hold a warm glass of milk your brain will react in the same region as when you feel social interaction that you find a warm and pleasant as well. Friendship and Heat sensation lit up the same region of our brain. And vice-versa, if you feel emotional pain, the same part of your brain reactivate as when you feel it in person.

Can we measure priming? Especially its potential to subconscious influence on thinking and behaviour. Priming can directly or indirectly be caused by places stimuli. Thank god for that, otherwise, we would never be able to deliver brand awareness to this world. It does sound almost unbelievable: We can have the ability to place small ques for our customers that can be followed and at the end, we have primed association for our brand. But what we need to distinct is that priming is an active process while the brand value is its, not synonym. Behavioural Priming delivers brand values.

The brand is defined as a set of physical and emotional assets, also tangible and intangible. Marketers should consider both conscious associations and emotional states of their customer. Priming makes people connecting brands easily. A brand can disperse more and more mental association and activate some associations by repetition of Priming. Call this a behavioural nudge by marketing stimuli. This is why commercials have catchy tunes and post on Instagram have a similar colour scheme. Repetition can go far, in the case of priming.

Red Bull gives you wings?


Most the research projects regarding the topic of Priming are pure fun to read. Since Priming is basically subconscious dot connecting, can we rely on attribute transfer? If we perceive a brand as fun are we fun by association? Power of Priming by brand logo has been measured in the experiment. Researchers have used a racing computer game. Two cars marked by several companies logos and one of them was Red Bull. Another car was marked by Guinness or Tropicana. What they found is that Red Bull indeed gives you winds. Red bull car drivers drove faster and more aggressive compared to other car drivers. Red Bull brand has the ability to change people behaviour by logo association. Red Bull Marketing team you are slaying!



For me, priming is one of the most intriguing concepts in Behavioural Marketing. I plan to create a series of articles on this topic. Priming takes place in everyone’s daily lives. You certainly can relate to the process of priming your behaviour as well as the behaviour of others.
So next time when you see yellow and red – but your first impulse is eating a cheeseburger – You are being primed!



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