I like to tell the story of how when I first moved to the U.S. from my birthplace in South Korea, the first English-language ad I ever saw was Tony the Tiger, selling Frosted Flakes. Now was this actually the first ad I ever saw? Probably not. But it’s the most memorable, because I had a heightened feeling of positive emotion about Tony. I was a young kid, new to a country where I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t yet have many friends. And Tony, not only brought me the most delicious cereal I had ever tasted (sweetened children’s breakfast cereals were not a thing in Asia at that time), he was an enthusiastic and friendly ambassador to this new world I had just joined. “They’re GREAT!!” he would say. And I totally agreed.
But that memory of sitting in the big armchair after school, in our little row house in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, eating Frosted Flakes out of the box while watching Tony on our big Sony Trinitron – is that accurate? Did I make that up? Did I alter certain details, to make it more interesting or pleasant? I have no way of knowing, as my mother was a working mom at the time, and my grandmother, who lived with us, has since passed away. Even if she were alive today, she too would be relying on her memory, which could be just as revisionist as mine.
Incredible fact: In approximately ¾ of the cases where a person, who was falsely accused of a crime and later exonerated due to DNA evidence, the false conviction was to due to faulty eyewitness testimony. In other words, faulty memory was at fault.
In Jewish biblical law, it takes three eyewitnesses, all seeing the same thing, to enable a capital punishment outcome. The judges were never able to enact this law, because everyone sees things from their own perspective and with their own perceptual biases. For a brilliant demonstration of this phenomenon, watch the landmark film by Akira Kurosawa called Rashomon. Four participants in a crime retell the story, each from their own perspective. The result is four completely different films about the same ‘event’.
What psychologists and neurologists have found, following the landmark discovery by Dr. Kandel that intense sensory/emotional experiences stimulate new neural connections in the brain, is that each time we recall a memory, we are slightly altering the wiring, and thus changing the memory.
What does this mean for us who work in branding and advertising? How can we utilize this knowledge to become better at what we do?