How Brands are Remembered - Orality and Memory

What is obvious is that a primarily oral culture does not have access to our main memory aid, the written word. Without writing memory becomes absolutely central. The Bardic storyteller must find a way to remember a vast cache of stories. It is vital too for the listener, who needs to be able to take the wisdom of the story into his or her own life. What can these oral cultures teach us about memory and what can we learn from them to apply to our marketing strategies?

An examination of advertising history uncovers work, often decades old, that has lodged in the culture’s memory structures, or we find a decade of campaigns has completely passed everyone by. Guinness recently audited 20 slogans used over 165 years. The only slogan remembered was “Good things come to those who wait”, which had run in 1999!

“Guinness is good for you” and “Guinness for strength” got even deeper into the culture. Loads of (older) people advise pregnant women to drink Guinness. This appears to be based on those slogans becoming part of the culture, even though the words may no longer be remembered.

Guiness Marketing Slogans
Guinness Slogans

In a study by Dave Trott, we know that in spite of the billions spent on brand advertising every year only 4% is remembered positively, 7% is remembered negatively and 89% is not noticed or remembered at all. This was right at the heart of Byron Sharp’s research. To create a marketing strategy to get into that 4% you must reach out with salient messaging that elicits an emotional response, and builds relevant associations by refreshing and building memory structures.

The time that an advert is viewed is separated in time from the time of purchase. When visiting the supermarket, with its 30,000 to 50,000 SKU’s (stock-keeping units), it is only those things that I remember that will help me to make my split-second choice of what to buy.

In the case of oral storytelling, memory was aided because the tellers, worked within the shared compendium of stories of the culture. This was their common mythic heritage, the body of stories passed on from generation to generation. Some of these would be the informal army who pass on these stories in homes and places of education and community.

A story I grew up with, heard over and over again at home, at school, on TV, hardly needs to be remembered. But one small reference to it and I can instantly attach the intended meaning.

Humpty Dumpty and Marketing Strategy
Familiar Stories

This is why Sharp advises to ‘refresh memory structures’. Oral storytellers work within the canon of shared stories of culture as do many crafters of iconic brands. Of particular early childhood, fairy tales, folk tales, myths and legends. These stories are often universal, with similar stories being told around the world.

Story pathways or genres become so familiar, that the minute we hear the start of a story much of the rest of the plot can be inferred. As already pointed out, we know the plot and it is still not boring.

Familiar Story and Marketing

The great relevance of this to modern marketing strategies is that we want our consumers to interact. We want to tell our brand story, and we want consumers to bring their stories to it. But with consumer interaction how can we prevent the brand from losing its shape? How can we share ownership of the brand story, while keeping a hold of the reins?

By understanding the rules or constraints of the oral storytelling bargain between storyteller and audience, the interactive process will be within the internalized structures. Immersion and interactivity need not be at the cost of Brand cohesion.

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