openPR Logo

Semantic Priming definition

Semantic Priming Effect (© /

Semantic Priming Effect (© /

The semantic priming effect is a psychological term that refers to a particularly tendency of the human mind to associate objects and respond to them. This is not only useful for psychotherapists, it is also a vital concept in marketing, because it can be used to prepare or “prime” a customer for a particular message. 

What is Semantic Priming?

Semantic priming is simply the process of preparing someone to recognize or react to a specific concept, image or word by giving them a related one first. For example, someone is much more easily able to recognize and react to an image of a car tire if they are shown a picture of a car beforehand, as opposed to an unrelated picture.

Methods of Priming

Priming can happen several ways, both when it comes to marketing and how it relates to psychology. For example, you can prime someone by showing them a visual image. Did you know that studies have shown that people become more creative by being shown the Apple logo? You can also get people to find things funnier by getting them to smile beforehand. For example, showing them an image that makes them smile will make them more receptive to a written joke.

openPR-Tip: But imagery is not the only way to prime someone. People may also be primed semantically, which is obviously the focus of this article. ‘Semantically’ simply means priming someone using words or phrases. You can also prime someone using other inputs such as sounds, smells and tastes. For example, a television commercial that uses a sizzling sound liberally might get someone more interested in buying a steak next time they go to the grocery store – hopefully the steak that was advertised in the commercial.

The Longevity of Priming

You might be surprised at how long priming actually lasts. According to psychology research, priming someone can put them in that state for anywhere from fifteen minutes to two days. This means that from a marketing perspective, you can do a great deal with semantic priming. Most people try to attract customers and convince them to buy immediately. While this is a solid strategy, if you can figure out what sort of semantic priming is going to last for a couple of days, then you will be able to multiply your sales exponentially. The immediacy of the transaction is not as important as making sure that the customer is primed to make the purchase – even if it takes a day or so.

How to Use Semantic Priming in Marketing & Advertising

You are probably wondering how you can use semantic priming in your own marketing and advertising efforts. There are a lot of techniques out there, and unfortunately, it is not something that you are going to be able to learn instantly and be able to use successfully. This is an extremely powerful tool that can get you great results, but it is based on a great deal of understanding human psychology as well as practice. Many colleges and universities teach semantic priming in some of their marketing courses, so you may be able to learn some there. However, here are some techniques that you can use to implement semantic priming in your own marketing efforts today.

Expert Advice: A Semantic Marketing Technique

The simplest technique that can be taught and used immediately is the use of words to prime behavior. For example, if you want someone to be receptive when you called them on the phone to pitch a product or service, then you can use words that will put them in a polite state of mind and open to buying. This is a simple technique but it is powerful. If someone reads a paragraph filled with rude words they are more likely to be rude. If someone reads polite words in a paragraph, they are more likely to be polite.


Semantic priming is a powerful technique that can be used in marketing and advertising, but it is a difficult to understand technique at the deeper levels. You have to learn the psychology behind semantic priming – and priming in general – and then develop strategies that you can test out and see if they work or not. Semantic priming is first and foremost a psychological technique, so serious marketers may want to learn a little bit of psychology if they want to use these advanced marketing techniques to improve their businesses.