How Brand Priming Influences Consumer Behavior

Brand Priming Can Shape Consumer Performance For Better or Worse

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Getty Images | Mirco Lazzari gp | Bongarts

What Is Brand Priming? Are Consumers Aware of Brand Priming?

Most people in developed countries are surrounded by brands most of the time.  Product placement is big business.  Ambient advertising is a continuous intrusion.  At one level, we are all aware of the products around us.  Yet, research indicates that the influence of brands on consumers occurs at another level, too - the non-conscious level.

 

Researchers have become increasingly aware of the influence of brand priming on consumers. Subtle cues come from many directions in marketing and advertising, such as brand logos, packaging ​colors and typology, attractiveness of people featured in commercials.

Why Red Bull Racers Are Faster

A study by S. Adam Brasel and James Gips, professors at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, conducted a fascinating study on the effect of the Red Bull brand on the racing performance of video game players.  The only thing is if the racers had been driving actual cars instead of playing video games, many of them would have crashed and could have been severely injured, or worse.  The researchers wrote that the the Red Bull logo did indeed give the racers "wings," which might be mistaken for "a heavy dose of attitude" (Hayward, 2011). 

Here is what happened

The researchers engaged video game enthusiasts to play a car racing video game.

  Two different cars were used in the video game.  One car was decorated with a red and gold Red Bull logo while the other cars were decorated with a different color scheme and a different brand logo.  The other prominent brands represented in the video car racing game included Coca-Cola, Guinness, and Tropicana.​

There were no inherent differences in the cars: they had the same performance features and basically the same paint job.  The only real differences between the cars were the brand logos - and, as we will see, the assumed attitudes of the drivers of the cars. The video players driving the Red Bull cars drove fast, powerfully, aggressively, and took many risks.  Some players raced very effectively around the race course, while others were so reckless that they crashed, losing badly to their opponents because of time lost during the crash

Brand Logos Do Matter

What is astonishing about this research experiment is that the video players were unaware of how differently they were racing from the drivers in the other cars with the different brand.  Their non-conscious performance was the result of brand priming.  The edgy marketing of Red Bull apparently had a powerful effect on the racers that they didn't recognize. 

The Red Bull brand identity has been crafted largely by the marketing promotions conducted by the company, such as airplane races, luge contests in the streets, and ice skating obstacle courses navigated in a full-contact manner that gave the event its name - Crashed Ice. The characteristics attributed to the Red Bull beverage and logo apparently triggered the behaviors that the race car drivers exhibited as they played the video game.

The researchers theorized that the brands that we live with every day more strongly mold our behavior than we might imagine.  In some cases, the brand priming.  Where marketers once believed that exposure to brands only influenced consumers thinking, this research by Brasel and Gips showed that brands can effectively shape the actual performance of consumers.  And this brand priming has been shown to have both positive and negative effects, all without the awareness of the person being influenced.

Sources

Brasel, S. A. (2011, May). Nonconscious drivers of visual attention in interactive media environments. Journal of Brand Management, 18, 473-482. doi:10.1057/bm.2011.11

S. Adam Brasel & James Gips (2011), “Red Bull ‘Gives You Wings’ For Better or Worse: A Double-Edged Impact of Brand Exposure on Performance,” Journal of Consumer Psychology, 21(1), 57-64.

Hayward, E. (2011, January 31).  Red Bull logo enough to shape consumer performance. Boston College.  EurekAlert! [press release].