The consumer is a mystery that every startup, and marketer has been trying to understand. While each startup has been attempting to understand consumer behavior, they seldom seek advice from a large field of science, psychology. The psychological perspective can be especially useful when analyzing consumer behavior. Marketing can be improved if it is looked upon from a psychological perspective.

In 2012, Dunkin’ Doughnuts initiated a fascinating marketing campaign where a spirit of coffee scented fragrance would be released on buses when the Dunkin’ Doughnuts jingle played on the radio. This campaign was wildly successful which is evident by a 16% spike in visitors at locations near bus stops and an overall 29% increase in sales in the duration of the ad (Annear, 2012). While the success of this campaign could be from a wide variety of factors, one that is often unacknowledged is the psychological concept of priming from classical conditioning.

Pavlov was one of the first researchers to provide significant evidence of classical conditioning through the experiment, best known as Pavlov’s Dogs. The researcher would ring a bell and then feed each of the dogs. A measuring device was attached to the salivary gland of the dogs as a way to measure the behavior elicited from the bell (conditioned stimulus). Following each exposure to the bell and food, the amount of saliva was measured and recorded. Pavlov then removed the reward (food) and measured the amount of saliva produced after ringing the bell. It was found that the dogs when exposed to the conditioned stimulus of the bell, would start salivating regardless of the presence of food (Carpenter & Huffman, 2011). This shows that it is possible to transform a neutral stimulus into a conditioned stimulus that elicits a response.

Obviously, the Dunkin’ Doughnuts campaign is not identical to Pavlov’s experiment.

However, this marketing campaign could be viewed as an example of classical conditioning and priming. Coffee drinkers are already conditioned in a sense to the smell of coffee, which elicits the response of increased desire for a cup of coffee.

When potential consumers are on a bus either on their way to or from work, the smell of coffee and the Dunkin’ Doughnuts radio commercial could act as a primer strong enough to nudge bus riders enough to purchase coffee when they walk by one of the many locations in Seoul.

The fun part about marketing is the opportunity to discover new ways to trigger favorable emotional responses from consumers. To build a successful marketing campaign, marketers ought to start with best practices, testing how well proven theories apply to their unique circumstance. But, over time, the best performing marketing campaigns evolve after consistent testing and optimization. While psychology may insist a specific outcome will happen with general inputs, most marketing scenarios have their distinct attributes and consumers at different times of the day, and stages of their life may have completely unusual reactions to brand advertisements. Ultimately, it is up to you and your marketing team to unravel the perfect formula for success for your business and your business.