memorable ads

What Makes Advertising Memorable?

VCCP has released a research paper outlining what it believes help ads stick in the minds of consumers at point of purchase

By Stephen Lepitak

“The human brain is not designed to remember, it's designed to forget. The greatest brands unstand this” states Charles Vallance, the founding partner and chairman of VCCP while referencing a new piece of research that the agency has released that explores the issue of memory.

According to the research, less than 16 per cent of ads are recalled or correctly attributed while one-third of online ads are never even seen.

The ‘Cracking the Memory Code” report is the first in a thought leadership programme being developed under ‘The Challenger Series’ title, which will explore what drives purchasing decisions at point of sale.

This report focuses on the science behind memory and how brands can apply that to get themselves noticed and drive recall when it comes to the moment of purchase.

“Because it is binary, memory is fraught with jeopardy,” continues Vallance as a call to marketers to better understand it and improve their ability to drive recall.

Within the report, it is underlined that despite some things being remembered for life, a person’s memory is not a 'storage system’ but it is a 'filtration system’ in which the things that do not matter to them are often forgotten.

One of the key insights from the paper highlights that brands must innovate within their marketing communications, while not moving too far away from their core idea. That means distinctive brand assets that are developed and reused consistently while evolving slowly over time may prolong a brand’s successful campaign concept.

Familiarity and repetition of an ad or brand assets within a long-running campaign can also be a successful tool for brands to make connections in the moment of consumption. However, simply repeating the same thing will likely drive people to ignore the message over time.

An example of this is within the long running ComparetheMarket campaign and its merekat brands ambassadors. Last year, to freshen things up, it introduced cousin Carl the wombat as a new recurring character, described by System1 as “a winning addition”.

“Every piece of communication exists on a knife edge between being instantly forgotten and remembered forever. It throws down a gauntlet to everyone working in marketing communications: if we’re not interesting, they’re not listening, and our brands go missing,” says Richard Harriford, global group planning director at VCCP and author of the report.

The report also explores why the emotional tools of creative advertising such as the inclusion of humour, surprise and character within a narrative helps to overcome the potential of being boring to the consumer, and therefor ignored.

It claims that humour is most effective when times are tough, citing campaigns from the past such as Reebok’s ‘Belly’s Going to Get You’ and Specsaver’s ‘Shoulda Gone To’ campaigns as having scored high marks on its Memorability Index, due to their likeability and memorability, despite their difficult subject matter.

Rhymes and rhythmic language also can cut through and become memorable, as can jingles despite having gone largely out of fashion in recent years.

The agency cites the creation of Domino’s yodel as an example of the use of music without sounding like an old radio campaign too.

By understanding how memory works we can design for it,” explains Harriford. “We can become memory-makers – the people who are able to be top of mind at the right moment, and win in the market.”

Working with Cowry Consulting, the agency has conducted an experiment featuring 100 ads, widely considered the best from over the last 50 years, and tested them with a nationally representative audience for memory encoding.

Ranking at the top were campaigns for brands that ranged across various categories; Cadburys campaigns ‘Mum's Birthday’ and ‘Gorilla’, Coca-Cola’s ‘Holidays Are Coming’, Haribo’s ‘Boardroom’ and Specsavers’ ‘Rollercoaster

The ads that tested best were also found to be a part of long-standing creative platforms.

Read the whole report at VCCP’s dedicated section of its website.


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