Priming (aka: If You Buy This, You Will Be Rich, Beautiful, and Possibly Philanthropic)

OK, folks, pop quiz time. What are the top three words that pop into your head when you see this logo…(and don’t cheat! I posted mine below):





1. Fresh

2. Healthy

3. Honey wheat yum. 

And yet, Subway is not really that healthy or fresh, depending on what you order. U.S. Subways are embroiled in a bit of a scandal right now for including azodicarbonamide in their bread. Azodicarbonamide is used by the impatient souls amongst us to whiten flour almost instantly, rather than relying upon more natural, albeit also more time-consuming methods. This chemical is also hilariously used in the creation of yoga mats and the soles of shoes, so if you ever found yourself masticating a Subway sandwich and feeling a little like some hot yoga, now you know why. 

Azodicarbonamide is banned in the E.U. and countless other countries (along with a host of other dangerous chemicals found in U.S. food that the FDA has given the thumbs up…like Red 40 and other artificial dyes, ) and is linked definitively to asthma and other health complications. In Singapore, you can actually get ARRESTED and FINED for using this chemical in food production. 

I could talk for days about the chemicals and suspicious things found in our foods and beauty products (stay tuned), but the main purpose of this long overdue post is the subject of priming. Anybody remember the hysteria about Coca-Cola sending subliminal messages via their ads? (MICHAELJACKSONISGOD) Priming is similar, but its not about hidden whispers in soundtracks. It’s much more subtle and diabolical than that. Priming relies upon your brain’s intricate network of connections and interconnections to draw conclusions or form bridges between two seemingly unrelated images or topics. 

I first discovered this idea through Whole 30, which is a lifestyle change based around whole food eating, which means locally grown, organic produce, sustainably raised and humanely slaughtered meat, and a lack of food that causes inflammatory responses in the body, like legumes or gluten. I’m not going to say I’m perfect, but I still do try to live by the principles of Whole 30.

But I like pizza. A lot. 

Priming extends beyond the boundaries of food advertising, including messages about violence and behavior, but for the purposes of this blog post, we will refrain from straying too far from food. 

Back to the Subway motto: “Eat Fresh”. This inspires in you the belief that you are eating fresh, healthy food. Inside the store, the illusion is continued: apple slices delicately arranged in cute little carrying cases (that never seem to brown or go bad), fresh spinach heaped appealingly in little plastic cases, bread loaves tucked adorably into a little bread box. 

All geared to inspire in your brain connections between fresh and Subway. Healthy and Subway. 

And moving on to other examples so that I don’t get sued by Subway for defamation or something, do this little mini experiment: watch a half hour of television with a pad of paper and a pencil handy. During the commercials, pay close attention to what the ad is saying about YOU as the consumer if you were to purchase this product. Jot down the product being sold, and the promises being made. 

My chart looked a little something like this: Split into two columns, one titled “Product” and the other titled “Inspirations” (which refers to what the ad inspired in me, whether it be feelings, motivations, desires, etc.)

1. Britney Spears perfume: sexy, mysterious, nice legs, hot guys

2. Zales jewelry commercial: commitment, forever, happiness, joy, love

3. Subway: happy, bouncy, healthy, active, weight loss

But for most of these associations, the ads didn’t come out and say it directly. For example, Britney Spears does not show up in her commercial, look straight at the camera and say “If you buy my perfume, you will have nice legs and get lots of hot guys.” But she and other models are portrayed spraying on the product and immediately prancing about in miniskirts having to beat off hot guys with sticks. That last part might be a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the picture. 

So, the bottom line is about awareness: advertisers and even grocery store managers are preying upon your brain’s innate structure and desires. Think about entering a grocery store: how many grocery store entrances dump you anywhere near the fresh meat or produce? None that I can think of! Next time you watch an ad and think “have to have/eat it!”, take a moment to pause and think about what awakened that desire. 

For me, if its pizza, it is an absolute pure desire to put that delicious dough and cheese in my mouth. 

If it’s Zales diamonds, it’s probably a little more convoluted. 

And lastly, learn to buy food not from advertisements and known branding, but from careful study of labels, additives, and sources. I buy almost all my food from little know brands that have a commitment to low packaging and no additives and chemicals. 

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