How Brands Are Using Your Memory to Their Advantage

Is it just me, or are video ads getting more ridiculous by the second?

I often find myself streaming my entertainment rather than watching live TV in order to avoid advertisements. However, despite my years of experience in avoiding advertisements, there are some commercials that just demand my attention.

For example, the men’s deodorant brand Old Spice is well known for its unorthodox videos. Whether it’s actor Terry Crews powering an entire garage band by hooking an EKG machine up to his muscles or a tree full of moms showering their sons with tears and denouncing the brand for “making men of their sons”, Old Spice’s advertisements just seem to be going over the top.

But this trend doesn’t stop with Old Spice. Other brands, like DirecTV and its talking horse, for instance, are also getting on the weirdness bandwagon. Not only do commercials like these catch my attention, but they seem to stick with me days and weeks after I’ve watched them, as if they’re burned into my memory.

At first I assumed these videos were just a device used to grab the viewer’s attention, like a strong lead in an online article. But I soon began to realize that even when I wasn’t fully paying attention I could remember portions of advertisements in extreme detail.

Then it hit me; the genius of these techniques wasn’t necessarily in gaining my attention, but in subliminally programming my memory. These brands discovered a way to use my memory to their advantage, but how?

So, I researched memory techniques on the web and I came across a TED talk titled, “Feats of memory anyone can do.” Joshua Foer, a freelance journalist and the presenter of this particular talk, invited the audience on a journey where he would reveal the technique that allows individuals to compete in events like memory contest championships.

The memory technique he presented is known as the method of loci and it dates back to the times of ancient Rome and Greece.

While it may seem like a difficult method to master, the concept behind it is simple. The subject imagines a geographical location they are familiar with, like their home, in extreme detail and then pictures themselves walking through it. As the subject travels in their mind’s eye through their home they commit an item to remember to certain places within the home, for instance the coffee table in their living room. Those who are best at this memorization method are able to obtain high results by adding ridiculous imagery to the places they choose.

In an attempt to better understand this method, and more importantly what these brands were setting out to accomplish, I gave it a try myself. On a Monday morning I purchased tickets for an event taking place the following Friday, left them in my car’s visor where I normally would forget. My location was my apartment and the ridiculous image I came up with was a tiger wearing a green poker visor playing cards on my bed. The T in tiger was how I was able to connect the animal to my tickets, and the green poker visor represented the sun visor in my green truck. Low and behold, it worked.

After my memory palace experiment I was convinced that this was the method behind Old Spices seemingly mad commercials. While it would be extreme to begin churning out equally ridiculous content each day, there is something valuable to gain from this. Intelligent content marketers will always find ways to not only grab the audience’s attention, but to give them something to remember whether the audience wants to or not.

At Content Boost, we have a team of experienced and skilled creatives who know when it’s the right time to take a risk and, more importantly, where proper techniques like these should be implemented. To learn more about how get content that your readers won’t soon forget, click here.


blog photoAt 12-years-old, Salvatore Trifilio scored in the 99thpercentile on a New Jersey standardized test in the category of “reading, writing and comprehension.” It was all she wrote, so to speak. Over the next 11 years (and counting) Sal has made writing a central part of his personal and professional lives. When not writing, Sal enjoys watching and talking sports, riding his skateboard down by the beach and jamming out to punk rock music. Most recently he has worked at “The Daily Voice” and “The Suburban News,” and has been published in the Contagious Optimism series for his piece on the Boston Marathon bombings. Sal holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English/Journalism from Fairfield University, where he also minored in Philosophy. He’s also extremely Italian, if his name didn’t already give that away. Follow him@SalTrifilio

3 responses

  1. Never realized until this read that out of the ordinary marketing is s form of mental marketing

    1. Hi Hustle Til Heaven Blog,

      Thank you for your comment. Isn’t it interesting how brands have been able to use the very basic ways our brains work to their advantage? I think it’s interesting that you mention mental marketing. Do you have any other examples? We would love to hear them!

      1. Yeah like the old spice commercial with the guy that was on the white horse and was funny… I live in Texas and it was hot at the Rodeo and I usually get axe to do rodeo promo in the heat, but after looking at all those white horses I accidentally chose old spice for some reason and it hit me when my associate asked me did I change colongnes

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