The psychology of memory and social marketing

Apr 11, 2017

The relationship between memory and branding, often called brand salience, is a slippery thing to nail down. What makes a person remember your brand colours, or logo, when scanning a shelf of options, is a mixed bag of applied psychology and dumb luck.

Over the years, a great many scientists have probed this relationship and found some compelling evidence that should influence the way we design advertising material.

One of the most prominent tomes on the quirks of the mind comes from Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. In his seminal book, ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, Kahneman argues (based on his surfeit of research), that there are two systems of thinking. A logical, rational system (slow), and an intuitive, subconscious system (fast).

Many people have noted that marketing generally aims to appeal to the slow system. We present a set of rational facts and comparisons to customers, and hope they’ll use their logical system to assess whether we’re worthy of attention. All the while, the intuitive thinking system is drawing up complex and emotional connections that we can barely fathom.

Of course, marketing appeals to the slow system because it’s easier to design logically coherent marketing campaigns.

It’s harder to tap into sounds, colours, words, and emotions that will elicit a subconscious and intuitive, but positive, response from your viewer.

Kahneman says “A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact”.

Using repetition can convert positive associations from conscious recall (slow thinking) into subconscious association, and therefore seems more intuitive and more authoritarian. So all those ads that play on repeat until you curse them out loud aren’t necessarily being ignorant. They might be trying to weasel into your subconscious.

Therein lies the appeal of social marketing. Some social mechanisms override our intuitive disdain of ads, things like a salacious but highly targeted click-baity headline, a share from a trusted friend, or video content that starts playing automatically. They get around the automatic firewalls our subconscious raises.

Ultimately, all brands are working to win your loyalty.

Not necessarily the fierce loyalty that would see you choose them over a cheaper brand, but lazy loyalty. You’ve tried the brand. You know them. It’s been a long day and you don’t want to think about it too much. Reverting back to tested options is a characteristic of decision fatigue.

Social marketing gives you more control now than it ever has. It’s a primo time to run A/B tests on your audience and see if there are windows, and emotive combinations of words and images, that hit the salience money-melon. We recommend following up a more experimental (fast system) ad set with a rational, easy to consume set of facts for the slow system to digest. These two paths to resonance (one relying on judgements/performance and the other on feelings/imagery) will work differently depending on the brand you’re working with. But empathising with how people think, regardless of how irrational it can be, will give you the edge in your marketing endeavours.

Light Creative is a Melbourne-based creative, content, and digital agency.