Humans use a bunch of rules to process information in order to judge it and act on it.

One of these heuristics is the Availability Heuristic.

The Availability Heuristic's logic goes like this: if it is easy to recall (remember), the probability or frequency must be very high.

For example, we read people two lists of names:

  • 19 famous men, 20 less famous women
  • 19 famous women, 20 less famous men

When asked, people will estimate that their were more men than women in the first list and more women than men in the second list " even though the opposite is true. [Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: a heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Experiment 8 PDF | Quick View]


Famous names are easier to remember (recall) than the non-famous ones.

This is an example of recall availability

Recall Availability

If we can (easily) remember instances or examples of something, we judge the event likely.

Exposure to news can thus influence our outlook on reality. People estimate that the chance of dying from shark attacks is much higher than dying from being hit by parts falling from airplanes. The truth is that the later is 30 times more likely " but there is much more news coverage of shark attacks.

Scenario Availability

The second form of the Availability Heuristic has us base the likelihood of a result of a series of events (a scenario) on how easily we can remember such scenario's.

This form often plays a role in the time and success estimates we make regarding upcoming projects.

How To Use The Availability Heuristic in Marketing

  • Prime for product outcome: feature a blog that frequently talks about the problem your product solves and about instances where not doing so caused serious loss
  • Prime for product success: sprinkle quotes and testimonials around your site
  • Show the result: make it easy to imagine the outcome (tip: see this done almost perfect in lottery advertisement)
  • Introduce: start talking about a service or product and the thing it acts upon weeks if not months before launching it. Talk today about what will happen tomorrow.
  • Hone your pitch: get a 10-second, 3-5 word sentence (tagline) that says what you do. Make it easy to remember.
  • Repeat

Do you have other ideas or examples of the availability heuristic in action in marketing?