How Advertising Creates Memories That Never Happened

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high and low imagery ad

A newly published study by two marketing professors suggests that advertising can create memories of experiences that never happened, simply by including sufficiently evocative imagery and descriptions in the ad.

Exposure to an imagery-evoking ad can increase the likelihood that consumer mistakenly believes that s/he has experience with the advertised product when in fact s/he does not. Moreover such a false belief produces attitudes that are as strong as attitudes based on true beliefs based on previous product experience, an effect that we label the false experience effect.

Link on JSTOR.

Advertising has always sought to “sell the sizzle, not the steak” and has drizzled ads for everything from ice cream to toilet paper with purple prose evoking nothing short of an orgiastic product experience. So from that standpoint, the study says nothing new. Advertising has always been an appeal to a fantasy, and this study seems to suggest that if the ad is created just right, that fantasy can be in the form of a desire to return to a previous wonderful experience (even if the previous experience never actually happened.)

Let’s face it, if Baudrillard was right and our postmodern existence is little more than a simulation, it should not surprise us that our memories have become re-writable and random access.

But this finding suggests something a bit more insidious. If you can fool people into thinking they once experienced something that they never did with just an elaborate text description, imagine what you can do with a whole newspaper and 24-7 cable news.

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13 Responses to How Advertising Creates Memories That Never Happened

  1. JohnJ says:

    I don’t have to imagine it. It’s already here.

  2. xylokopos says:

    It’s not just advertising that creates pseudo-memories, dreams sometimes do the same, booze does the same ( well, when it is not doing the opposite, that is erasing from memory events that did happen), poetry can do the same, your mother’s repeated narrative of your childhood can do the same etc. What Baudrillard writes about simulacra is interesting but on a certain level he is reworking philosophical ideas that have been around since Plato, who was also obsessed with the function of memory. And PB, since you insist on reading those weird french postmodern dudes, you will get a kick out of how Derrida reads Plato’s Phaedrus on the connections between writing, memory, truth and toxicity.

    Another thing that creates false memories is religious conversion, mainly because it alters the prism through which you view yourself and your actions and also radically changes the language you use when reflecting on past actions and events. Political radicalization also does the same.

    I wanted to write some more stuff but I realised that I forgot what I tried to remember to write about.

  3. Guy Fox says:

    -“Well, for Christ’s sake!… You’re not one of those people who trusts his memory, are you?”
    *”I don’t think I’ll forget that face … very soon.”
    -“You’ll forget it when you’re dead, and so will I. When I’m dead, I’m going to forget everything – and I advise you to do the same.” (from Vonnegut’s ‘Cat’s Cradle’)

    If existence is simulation, and simulation is an externally induced image, then reality comes when the imagination is extinguished? In the meantime, “Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy”.

  4. BluegrassJack says:

    The study’s authors are at US universities. If the study were carried out at a US college or anywhere in the nation, wouldn’t most of those subjects be familiar with eating popcorn, even foreign students where corn is only used to feed pigs? Who were the study subjects? Were they in Bangladesh? I don’t feel like paying to read more than the first page.

    The name “Orville Redenbacher’s” reminds [US] people of a kindly grandfatherish figure wearing a bow tie and a suit. There is/was such a real person. Why did a jam and preserves manufacturer stick with a name like “Smucker’s”? The emotional tie-in of an old-fashioned warm-and-fuzzy name with an old-fashioned – but still sold product – is a major part of their advertising programs.

  5. Pingback: Study: Advertising Plants Memories Of Experiences We Never Had | Disinformation

  6. apdub says:

    Flattery & evocative imagery notwithstanding, advertising is still about pointing out (in both subtle & unsubtle ways) what you lack; the fantasy & new memories aspect helps to soften the blow (perhaps?) that basically, to put it in more vulgar terms, you really suck.

  7. Pingback: Study: Advertising Plants Memories Of Experiences We Never Had | Vercund

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