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Brand Advertising And Memory

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One of the consistent findings from ad pre-testing and tracking research is that bits of ads go missing from people’s memories. A key reason for this finding is that our brains can’t deal with too many concepts at one time. I am not just speaking for myself, there is plenty of evidence that our conscious work space is limited, and things that don’t make it to our conscious attention, get forgotten.

So how does this memory loss happen? It all has to do with how our brains work. Our brains are incredibly good at focusing our conscious attention on things that are emotionally charged and relevant to us, and ignoring everything else.

Think of the “cocktail party” effect, where we can suddenly hear our name being mentioned across a crowded room, even though we were not previously conscious of that specific conversation taking place. The use of our name – something emotionally charged and relevant to an individual – implies the conversation could be important to us so our conscious attention is drawn to it.

The downside of the “cocktail party” effect, is that the conversation we were having with the person next to us, gets ignored for as long as our attention is distracted. A few seconds later, we suddenly realize we have no clue what the other person was saying to us.

The same sort of effect takes place in video ads. Our attention gets directed to interesting and enjoyable aspects of the ad – the emotionally charged and relevant bits – and that distracts our attention from other elements. No attention, essentially means no memory.

A related problem is that the brain takes time to create a conscious understanding of something (about half a second). As outlined in the Page and Raymond paper, this “attentional blink” happens when the brain needs time to form a representation of what it is seeing.

Think about all of the elements competing for our attention in the typical TV commercial. Every element on screen is a potential focus for attention. And think about how quickly scenes get presented. Every change in a scene risks an attentional blink.

Is it any wonder that some content never gets noticed? And if it is not noticed, it won’t be remembered. That is not a problem if it is an inconsequential scene, but what if that scene is important to the overall impression of the ad, or worse still, the brand itself? If the impression is not linked to the brand in people’s memories, it is not going to have any effect on attitudes or behavior.

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