Do You Remember Your First Ad? Advertising and Memory – Part 3 of 4

A psychologist friend once told me, very emphatically, “The mind is not a storage cabinet, Wahn. It’s a receiving and transmitting device.” She was referring, of course, to the subject of memory. We now know that information and experiences are not ‘stored’ in the brain in neat little packages, located in some corner of the mind, to be opened like a drawer when we retrieve it.

Instead, what we seem to be doing when we remember something is that we’re re-activating established wiring that involves thousands of neurons, which fire in a pattern that is essentially the experience of remembering that moment in time.

And we’ve also learned that every time we reactivate that ‘firing of the wiring’, the wiring itself changes slightly, and the memory is therefore changed.

In other words, memory is a creative process.

When we design a campaign (i.e., not just a single ad or a moment in time, but a series of connected moments over an extended period), what we’re really aiming to do is to first create new wiring in the brains of our constituents. And the only way to do that is to expose our audiences to heightened sensory and emotional experiences connected to our brand.

What’s more, we want those experiences to be highly attractive to repeat. Negative experiences, while being memorable in their own way, are not attractive to repeat; generally speaking, people will avoid the reactivation of those experiences if they can, out of a sheer sense of survival.

My next hypothesis is that forming new wiring, which takes energy and resources on the part of the brain, is more likely if the new wiring is somewhat close to wiring that already exists.

The brain is a highly efficient mechanism, which uses resources with brilliant skill. If it simply takes too much resource (proteins, for example) to establish radically new wiring, it simply will not do so. Short of a major cataclysmic experience such as 9/11 or World War II, the human brain will stick to its existing guns, so to speak. So, it would be wise for us to understand what the existing patterns of thought and behaviour are that are fairly close to the new thoughts/behaviours we’re trying to instill. It only makes sense.

Our creative and media decisions should help the audience, over time, reactivate and evolve the wiring, keeping it alive and fresh. The understanding that memory is a creative process, should lead us to investigate ways to get our customers to become involved in that creativity. In many ways, that’s what advertising and social media combinations are really doing. The ad or initial content (for example, a brilliant launch film on YouTube) forms the first, tentative new wiring, and social media engages that audience in the continual recreation of that new mental pattern, reinforcing and evolving it in a wonderful dance.

– W.