The Use of Priming / Subliminal Advertising in Supermarkets

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The Use of Priming / Subliminal Advertising in Supermarkets

Have you ever heard a song on the radio, or caught a scent of someone’s perfume/aftershave which has reminded you of a specific person or past event? Well, these subtle environmental cues are unconsciously activating memories that you’ve stored away in your brain – otherwise known as priming.

As well as being beneficial for memory and learning, priming has been a key interest for consumer psychologists and advertisers over the years, and no –  we’re not talking about subliminal advertising, where there is no (and never has been) proof to suggest that unconscious priming can control decision making processes. Research does however find that priming can unconsciously change the way people think, feel and behave (Walsh, 2014), which could then influence the way in which they shop.

Research in 2009 found that using sensory phrases such as ‘tasty’, ‘hot’ and ‘sweet’ when advertising food prompted shoppers to recall feelings of pleasure and immediate gratification of prior consumption, which therefore led to increased desire for that product (Bargh & Brownell, 2009).

Our own research has also found some interesting results when it comes to priming. In store we attached a simple colour card, displaying the key colour of the category leader, to the beginning of the aisle. When we asked shoppers, nobody said they’d seen the card, yet we saw sales increase by as much as 20% for the brand! Shoppers were primed by the colour!

Priming in supermarkets, however, is not only there to increase sales. In recent years, the introduction of the traffic light system for displaying FOP nutritional information has become the norm. This system is designed so that the mere sight of the red label signals that this product is unhealthy and probably contains excess of your RDA of either fat, salt or sugar. Without even realising you could be putting down that unhealthy pizza and picking up something a little more green – a prime (excuse the pun) example of using priming in a positive way.

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