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Using Behavioural Science: Priming

Using Behavioural Science: Priming

Written by

Mel Fulker


July 20, 2021



Learn about a behavioural science bias and how to use it to your advantage.

What is Priming?

Priming happens at a very subconscious level. Our behaviour can be tweaked by subtle exposure to words, smells, sounds and sights that we are not consciously aware of and cannot later recall.

Here’s an experiment to demonstrate it

A wine shop carried out an experiment to investigate the effect of in-store ambience on sales of specific wines, French and German music was played on alternating days. On days when French music was played, French wines outsold German wines by a ratio of 5:1. On days when German music was played, German wine outsold French wine by 2:1.

What does this mean in the context of retail and hospitality? 

There are probably very few other industries where pretty much all the senses can play a part in contributing to a great customer experience and making sales. From the smell, sight and taste of great food to eye-catching spectacular fashion displays and the music played in-store. And what’s key, as in the above experiment, these elements are not just ‘nice to haves’, but powerful tools that drive sales and real-world commercial objectives.

In 2018 Beefeater London Dry Gin carried out a great OOH advertising campaign built on this heuristic. They transformed Oxford Circus underground station from a typical day-to-day commuter route to a haven filled with sweet scents. Launching their new strawberry flavoured gin, the brand decorated the escalator walls with strawberry-scented posters in a sugary pastel pink shade, no doubt leaving many commuters thinking of picking up a nice strawberry gin on the way home.

London Dry Gin advertiser campaign on the escalators on the underground

How can we harness the power of this bias?

Consider all senses, not only sight, when influencing behaviour and be wary of relying on people’s own explanations of their behaviour. They are not completely conscious of their subconscious.

Setting the right ambience in a store or restaurant is hugely important. For example, scented candles that evoke memories of Greece may lead to the Moussaka main course selling more. Having the music and lighting working in tandem to create pitch-perfect atmospheres as evening falls can result in customers dwelling longer and thus potentially spending more.

Don’t forget touch! This is a great one – wine served and poured from a heavier bottle is perceived as having a more intense smell and as being of higher quality. Also, slow music encourages people to take their time – a useful tactic for when you want to increase dwell time and spend.

Talk to us about how you might use Priming to your advantage throughout your customer journey.



North, Adrian C., Hargreaves, David J., McKendrick, Jennifer. The influence of in-store music on wine selections.  Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 84(2), Apr 1999, 271-276.

Piqueras-Fiszman, B., & Spence, C. (2012). The weight of the bottle as a possible extrinsic cue with which to estimate the price (and quality) of the wine? Observed correlations. Food Quality and Preference, 25(1), 41–45.

Using Behavioural Science: Priming

Mel Fulker

Chief Customer Officer at Startle. It's my job to oversee marketing, sales, and customer engagement, making sure everything we do is aligned to deliver the best possible customer experience. When I’m not working, you can find me exploring quirky coffee shops and practising yoga. Oh, and running after my toddler, which is the real fun bit!

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