Triggers: Did NASA Mars Mission Lift Mars Candy Bar Sales?

The mind works in mysterious ways. During the NASA Mars mission, sales of Mars candy bars increased, said Jonah Berger of the Wharton School.  In one experiment, subjects were asked to eat a crumbly biscuit. When there was a scent of cleanser in the room, people cleaned up more. In another study in a grocery story, one day they played French music and another day they played German music.  On days when French music was played, people bought more French wine; German music led to higher sales of German wine.  Since dogs and cats are related in people’s minds, when subjects were shown pictures of dogs, they favored Puma sneakers, associated with cats.

“Seemingly irrelevant stimuli in the environment can act as triggers and impact consumer behavior,” he said. “The stimuli can activate related concepts and increase evaluation and choice. These findings have been shown across a variety of triggers.”

Priming on websites (such as different backgrounds) might activate triggers. There are also implications for testing campaigns. “We often test campaigns at a particular moment but there may be cues in the environment to remind people of the campaign,” he said. “So campaigns should not just be catchy but also cued.”

Jack Wakshlag, CRO of Turner Broadcasting, said advertisement placement on television can also take advantage of such triggers. For example, a scene in Hitch where Will Smith is having allergic reaction and seeking an antihistamine is an effective spot for a drug store ad, or a breakfast scene is a good spot for an ad for eggs (but not following a scene of an auto accident).

Robert Gunther


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