Have you ever watched a television commercial, only to forget what it was about as soon as it ended? Maybe you have seen an advertisement or commercial product you wanted, but were unable to remember its name when it came time to purchase it.

We’ve all experienced this. Unfortunately for you, the consumer, the information was not relayed in a memorable way. Therefore, your mind did not store it for easy retrieval at a later date.

Advertising, branding, marketing, and PR should all be driving your company toward the same goal: To get people to remember your company when they are in need of the products or services that you provide.

Never forget there is a huge difference between remembering campaigns because they were engaging and remembering them because they were annoying.

The best way to understand how to market to someone’s memory is to look at how memory works in the first place. By knowing what makes people remember received information, you can devise your marketing plans to move your potential clients toward a sale.

In this article, we will discuss the different types of memory and provide examples that best utilize this science to help with your future campaigns.

The Science Behind Memory

There are three types of memory that play an integral role in how people will remember your brand.

1. Sensory Memory
2. Short-Term Memory (STM)
3. Long-Term Memory (LTM)

Sensory Memory

Sensory memory refers to how we remember the way things look, feel, smell, or taste. Typically, our brain stores this type of information quickly, as if it were taking a snapshot of the event using your senses as the camera.

For instance, when you touch a hot coal and burn your finger, your brain takes a snapshot of the look of the coal and the feeling in your finger after touching it. In this case, the information is pretty important, especially since there is pain and damage to the body. Your brain will then quickly file this away for future reference.

Many advertisers appeal to your senses by showing you something you may have had a positive experience with. For example, Jack In The Box will appeal to your memory of showing you a burger. They know that if they repeatedly flash the image of their meals on screen it is possible you will end up with a craving for their food.

Another example of an advertiser appealing to your sensory memory is a recent Chipotle video that promoted an iOS application. The video uses the famous Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory song that most people are very familiar with. This song might bring out certain emotions that will allow the viewer to remember the advertisement later on if the song plays again.

For copy to be effective in the absence of photos, copywriters need to appeal to as many senses as possible. This will allow the reader to access any memories that might be associated with the advertisement.

Recent examples from an article in Entrepreneur Magazine describe how appealing to a person’s sense would be more effective by comparing two very different headlines that advertise the same service.

Headline 1: You’ll get beautiful flowers at Blooms and More Florist.

Headline 2: Fill your home with the fresh aroma and vibrant colors of a floral arrangement from Blooms and More Florist.

The descriptive copy in the second headline appeals to more senses, helping the reader access memories that might be associated to fresh flowers in their past experiences. If they are positive, the reader will be more inclined to purchase flowers for their home.

Emotional ties to a memory was once thought of as the leading factor for retention, but in recent years scientists have found that, in certain cases, strong emotions do not necessarily help you remember. Emotion is but one factor, and it becomes much stronger when you tie it in with other influences such as descriptive copy or images.

Short-term Memory

Another type of memory, short-term memory, temporarily holds information actively being used. You remember what you need for only for a small amount of time due to the duration and capacity limits of short-term memory.

Repetition has a great effect on memory. When your brain repeatedly experiences the same event, it is more likely to deem the information important. In Advertising 101, it is taught that most people need to hear the name of a product a minimum of seven times to remember it.

However, there are instances where repetition in a short amount of time can lead to storage in the short-term memory bank. For example, when someone tells you a phone number and you repeat it to yourself until you reach the phone, there is a high chance that you will forget the number as soon as the other end starts to ring. This type of memory will probably not be a benefit to advertisers on a grand scale.

Long-term Memory

The third type of memory, long-term memory, is a complex human attribute. Aside from the primary abilities it gives us, it allows us to store information almost permanently with virtually unlimited capacity.

In a recent radio advertisement pushing safety, Grainger uses the science behind memory as part of their hook. They begin by telling you “the average person needs to hear something at least three times to remember it.” Throughout the commercial, they repeat several words. The words repeated are Grainger and Safety. The commercial, for a brand that we may not necessarily have a past experience with, repeatedly says, “Grainger, Grainger, Grainger. Safety, Safety, Safety.” The commercial might be annoying, but it is also effective for many to remember the commercial later on.

A study was conducted at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration to determine if an advertising campaign would create brand loyalty among those that were exposed to an established spokesperson or character since an early age.

In their study, the researchers refer to MetLife’s use of the peanuts characters to in order to help expose their brand to children demonstrating that “early exposure to adult-oriented products can create preferences later in life…using an established spokesperson or character has the advantage of having an already well-defined schema. Whether or not his rich memory network benefits the advertiser depends on how well a linkage between the brand and the spokesperson can be created.”

This study also suggests “the move from a short-term to long-term outlook has formed the underpinnings of the relationship-marketing paradigm. When a consumer has a particularly strong relationship to a brand, he or she can move beyond preference to the formation of a strong emotional attachment.”

If you don’t have an emotional or visual tie-in, the chances of the audience simply forgetting your product — even though they’ve seen the advertisement — is very high. Or, worse, your ad becomes annoying background noise.

Memory plays an important role in the decision-making of consumers and various factors make our brains determine whether information is important or disposable. Understanding what influences these subconscious decisions is what marketing is all about.

Now that you have this information, take a closer look at your products, target market, placement, and current message, and ask yourself: are we doing everything we can to get our potential clients to remember us?

For more in-depth looks at human memory, try these resources:

Web links:

Spark Notes Psychology Guide Series
Psychology Perspective and Connections