Helping Consumers To Remember

The hot new book is Joshua Foer’s “Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.”

Foer is an overachiever from an intellectual family who liked to talk about foreign policy, art and philosophy at the dinner table each night.  None of this “how was your day” stuff for them.  The book is the result of his decision to immerse himself in mnemonic technique with the memory master Ed Cooke.  Now he can memorize the order of a deck of cards in less than two minutes.

The appearance of this book on the bestseller list brought to mind former basketball great Jerry Lucas, another memory guru who has written extensively on the subject. I recall seeing him on the Tonight Show many years ago.  Before the show, he went into the audience and introduced himself to everyone.  When he came on, he went person by person, reciting each of their names and their hometowns. Lucas is also well known for once memorizing the entire Manhattan (New York City, not Manhattan, Kansas) telephone directory.

This is just fascinating stuff to me, so I went to buy the book the other day but forgot the title by the time I got to the bookstore.  Say what you will, but this was no senior moment. Here’s a photo of the cover to help us all remember.

One of the things Foer writes about is how smartphones and Google have eliminated the need to remember anything.  I couldn’t even tell you my kids’ mobile phone numbers.  I just hit a button on my phone and speed dial does the rest. Sometimes I have trouble remembering my own landline, which I never give out to anyone and hardly ever use.

I am not alone in this. Much has been written about how technology might be rewiring the human brain, much of it focused on how multi-tasking could be reducing our capacity to focus, in-depth, on a single task or subject for any sustained period of time.  The collective memory loss Foer writes about is likely having a profound effect on how we process our thoughts as well.

Now, imagine you’re in the toothpaste business, and your new line extension is on the shelf with, according to a February 23, 2011 Wall Street Journal article, well over 300 other toothpastes, including over 50 new product introductions in the past year. Who is going to remember your product when they get to the point-of-sale?

There is no panacea here, but marketers would be wise to pay a lot more attention to visual design.  Indeed, image association is one of the most important tricks employed by memory experts.  This is said to be most effective when the images conjured up are erotic and provocative.  One example Foer provides is when trying to memorize a grocery list, to think of the items laid out on a path through a familiar place, such as your home.  Then imagine a person performing an act on an object.  So if cottage cheese is on the list, one might imagine Claudia Schiffer swimming in it on the front lawn.

Of course, in the real world of marketing, everything can’t be about sex and associating erotica with frozen snacks or toothpaste could be counterproductive.  Well, that might not be true, but the marketing department isn’t likely to push suggestive recommendations through management and legal.

Still, in a world where it’s becoming easier to forget, striking visual imagery that is consistently reinforced throughout the communications mix will continue to be one of your most effective tools to rise above the clutter.

This isn’t a new idea.  All those characters created by Leo Burnett 50 years ago or more stamped brand identities such as the Green Giant, the Keebler Elves and Snap, Crackle & Pop indelibly in our minds. (Please do not start thinking about their sex lives now.  It’s just inappropriate.)

I’m off to redesign my logo.  How about a steamy scene of Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway under the palm tree?

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