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Making memories

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In Focus
Making memories

Memories exist to help us make
decisions. Understanding how they
do it promises to give brands and
marketers a powerful edge.

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In Focus
2
Making memories

A young man walks into his local bar and as his
attention focuses on a bottle of Corona, his mind
suddenly turns to a girl he kissed on a beach
holiday in Mexico five years before; a 21-yearold girl walks out of the cinema after watching
The Social Network and feels an overriding urge
to eat a Big Mac; a taste tester swiftly changes
his preference when told which of the drinks he
is comparing is Coca-Cola; and in Switzerland,
a student of wine stares incredulously when he
is told that the vintage that he has just praised
profusely is in fact the same cheap plonk that
he has tasted and dismissed as worthless a few
minutes before.

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These are all examples of the power of affective
memories, powerful associations that can
leap unbidden to our attention through the
activation of patterns of neurons in our brains,
often by seemingly unrelated triggers. The
first two are everyday examples of the ways in
which these memories influence the fortunes
of brands. The final two are taken from
groundbreaking experiments that have sought
to shed light on how.

In Focus
3
Making memories

Memory games
In the first of these experiments, a famous
taste-off between The Coca-Cola company
and Pepsi orchestrated by the neuroscientist
Samuel McClure in 2004, tasters were first
asked to sample the two drinks in a blind test.
When they did so, preference was split roughly
equally between the rival colas. However,
when they were then served the drinks from
branded containers, Coke became the favourite.
Interestingly, fMRI scans of the tasters’ brains
showed significantly different brain activity
when knowingly drinking Coca-Cola than when
consuming it blind. When it comes to enjoying
Coca-Cola, something other than tastebuds is
clearly at work.

had been poured into two of the bottles: one
the bottle of a prestigious vintage; the other
a younger, less prestigious label. The labels
exerted a great influence on the scores this
wine received: it drew positive scores and

reviews when poured from an expensive bottle,
and scathing ones when associated with a
cheaper label. When told what had happened,
all students had a hard time believing they
had actually tasted the same wine on both
occasions.

The wine experiment provides more evidence
as to what. In it, students of oenology were
presented with four different bottles of wine
and asked to taste them, rate them and then
justify the scores that they gave to each.
Unbeknownst to them, their drinks had been
tampered with. A mediocre wine of poor quality

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In Focus
4
The remembering self and the experiencing self
In his landmark book, Thinking Fast and Slow,
Daniel Kahneman explores the potential
difference between our “experiencing self” and
our “remembering self”, pointing out in the
process that our memories of an event can be
reconsolidated while the event itself is still ongoing. If a diner in a restaurant experiences a
wonderful five-course meal only to have a waiter
spill a glass of red wine all over his finest suit at
the end of it, it is this final memory that dominates

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how the event itself is remembered (in this case as
a negative experience). Likewise a bad experience
that ends well will be remembered positively and
recalled as a positive memory. As Kahneman puts
it: “The remembering self is sometimes wrong, but
it is the one that keeps score and governs what
we learn from living, and it is the one that makes
decisions. What we learn from the past is to
maximise the qualities of our future memories”.

In Focus
5
Making memories

The triumph of memory over (present)
experience
Both the wine tasters and their cola equivalents
had been fooled by the powerful role that traces
of the past play in preparing our brains for the
future. As neuroscientists come to understand
more about how memories form and re-form, they
are realizing that anticipating experiences in this
way is a vital part of their role. So much so that our
most powerful memories may actually supplant or
override our experiences in the present.
In our wine example, the brains of the students
were already equipped with knowledge of the
prestigious vintages and this memory trumped
actual taste when it came to experiencing the
wine. Could brands play a similar role, acting not
just as the promise of enjoyment but actually
causing us to experience that enjoyment as well?
The cola example appears to show that they can,
with the presence of a favoured brand bringing
memory networks into play and producing a more
positive experience. Such influence within the
mind is a powerful asset for any brand to possess.

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But our understanding of exactly how it forms –
and how brands can act to improve their position
within the brain – is only beginning to emerge.

this is the hippocampus at work. Its business,
the business of memory, is connecting different
elements of our experience together.

The busy librarian
Our knowledge of how memories are recorded,
consolidated, recalled and reconsolidated has
been transformed in recent years. We now
understand that memory is dispersed, with
various representations of an experience encoded
in different parts of the brain simultaneously.
These different perspectives on our memories
are connected together through the direction of
the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped structure
located near the brain’s temporal lobe. Imagine a
librarian surrounded by shelves that contain not
carefully bound, complete books relating different
episodes and aspects of our lives, but simply
piles and piles of individual pages. When a visitor
requests information on a specific subject (when a
memory is evoked), the librarian must fly around
these shelves, pulling together as many pages as it
can find that were recorded at the time and then
compiling them together into a coherent volume:

At the intersection of past and present
This process of connecting one set of information
with another is as relevant to our future as it is to
our past. The evidence of fMRI scans shows that
the parts of our brain we use when remembering
overlap substantially with the parts that we
use when anticipating or imagining the future.
Memories are the basis of our learning and
planning, and their intersection with the present is
a complex one. It is our present circumstances that
influence which memories rush to our minds and
the form that they take when they are recalled.
And as our wine example shows, present and
remembered experience can compete with one
another when it comes to establishing what is
actually happening. Evidence is even emerging that
our present experiences may cause certain parts
of our memories to be “reconsolidated”, editing
associations, replacing them with new ones and
colouring our recall of the past.

In Focus
6
Making memories

Proust on Neuroscience
Despite this impressive recent accumulation of
neuroscientific knowledge, the best evocation
of how memory intersects with present
experience remains that written by Marcel
Proust in Remembrance of Things Past (1913), in
which he describes how the unfamiliar taste of
Madeleine biscuit mixed with tea causes happy
memories of a long-forgotten aunt to rush to

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his mind. The sensation that Proust describes
is powerfully emotional, enough to make him
shudder and pause, even though it seems
to relate to a very ordinary experience. It is a
classic example of an affective memory, which
takes its power from emotional resonance and
deep personal relevance rather than the detail
of what it describes, and which has immense
potential to influence actions in the present.

Neuroscientists think of our memories as
collections of independent but interconnected
sub-systems that deal with different types of
information and knowledge: autobiographic
memory storing personal events and details
(such as the memory of the aunt hidden away
in Proust’s head), semantic memory handling
general knowledge about the world (which
informed him that the biscuit he was eating was
known as a Madeleine), procedural memory
governing how we carry out tasks and routines
(which helped him to sip his tea) and perceptive
memory relating to images, sounds and other
senses (which helped him to recognise the taste
of it). These memories become “affective”,
with the ability to spring powerfully to mind
and influence our experience and anticipation
in the present, when they are associated with
events of emotional or other significance to
the individual in question. In Proust’s case,
he recognises the emotion of happiness that
connects the different aspects of his Madeleine
memory together – even though it refers to
events so long ago that his autobiographic
memory cannot recall the detail of them.

In Focus
7
Marcel Proust on affective memories
An extract from Remembrance of Things Past (1913)
One day in winter, on my return home, my
mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some
tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at
first, and then, for no particular reason, changed
my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump
little cakes called “petites madeleines,”. No sooner
had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs
touched my palate than a shudder ran through me
and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing
that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure
had invaded my senses, something isolated,
detached, with no suggestion of its origin. I feel
something start within me, something that leaves
its resting-place and attempts to rise, something
that has been embedded like an anchor at a great
depth; I do not know yet what it is, but I can feel
it mounting slowly; I can measure the resistance.

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And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The
taste was that of the little piece of madeleine
which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because
on those mornings I did not go out before mass),
when I went to say good morning to her in
her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me,
dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane.
And as soon as I had recognized the taste of
the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction
of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give
me (although I did not yet know and must long
postpone the discovery of why this memory made
me so happy) immediately the old grey house
upon the street, where her room was, rose up
like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion
opening on to the garden which had been built
out behind it for my parents.

In Focus
8
Making memories

The power of affect
The connections between the neurons
constituting our memories can be strengthened
or weakened by chemical processes. It is well
established that “neurons that fire together,
wire together” reinforcing their connections
through a process knows as Long-term
Potentiation (LTP) and thus springing to mind as
a cohesive memory more readily than others. In
our library analogy, the hippocampus-librarian
quickly finds that some pages stick together
automatically, making it easier to organise them
into the right book – and that these books
start to fall open at the same pages time and
time again. In this way, our brain begins to
classify certain memories as more relevant and
significant than others. Over time, these wellestablished memories can even be accessed
independently of the hippocampus, since the
connections between them are so powerful.
And the memories that dominate this ranking
system are those strengthened by affective
forces.

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We have long known that emotion plays a
powerful role in directing our attention, and
prioritising what we remember. Emotion signals
to the brain that we care about something
– and therefore that our attention should be
focused on it. Through the chemicals that it
releases, it strengthens neural connections,
increasing the chances of memories being
recalled as a powerful, cohesive whole to
help guide our future actions. It is often the
most emotion-inducing elements of an event
that dominate our recall of it (explaining why
witnesses to an armed robbery can often
describe the gun in far more detail than the
person holding it). However, it is not simply the
emotional content of a memory that categorises
it as important. Memories that intersect closely
with goals, motivations, ambitions and identity
can equally become strengthened through
Long-term Potentiation. The most powerful
affective memories occur when these two forces
align – when an emotionally resonant memory

is particularly significant to the individual
concerned, ensuring a strong and regularly
reinforced memory pattern.

In Focus
9
Making memories

Brands and memory
Returning to our everyday examples, we can
see how individual emotional significance, and
the way in which it creates affective memories,
can work to the benefit of brands. Our visitor to
his local bar is affected by the bottle of Corona,
not just because it is associated with emotion,
but because it is associated with a particularly
significant emotion for him personally. He was
drinking Corona when he kissed the girl. It
brings vivid memories, thoughts and feelings not
just of a beach and the sun, but of a younger,
more romantic version of himself.
But the association of Corona with his Mexican
fling isn’t just the result of his memory of
the event itself. On various occasions in the
five years’ since, he has encountered Corona
advertising linking the brand with sunny climes,
partying lifestyles and sexy women, and this
advertising has reinforced the connections
between these constituent elements that form
his affective memory.

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In understanding the context in which its target
audience experiences its brand, and reinforcing
the resultant affective memories through
consistent advertising messages, Corona’s
advertising has regularly reminded the pages
in the hippocampus-librarian’s book that they

belong together; it has ensured that this is a
book that is very easy to recreate when the
circumstances suggest it. Corona is in control of
its brand narrative and can predict with some
certainty how the narrative will play out in the
mind of a great many individuals.

In Focus
10
The Jennifer Aniston neuron
In a recent experiment, the neuroscientist Quian
Quiroga demonstrated how single brain cells
may become associated both with specific
concepts and broader memories, through
following the activity of what he termed the
Jennifer Aniston neuron. This is the neuron that
fired within the brain of a subject when they
were shown pictures of the Friends actress,
but not when they were shown pictures of
other famous actresses or completely unrelated
objects such as the Sydney Opera House.
The Jennifer Aniston neuron was associated
specifically with Jennifer Aniston. It fired in
response to photographs of her in different

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outfits; even in response to the mention of her
name; but never to, for example, Katie Holmes
wearing a dress previously worn by Jennifer
Aniston. Intriguingly though, in the case of
some people, the Jennifer Aniston neuron also
fired in response other actors or actresses from
Friends. As well as being associated with Jen
specifically, it also appeared to form part of a
network of neurons that related to the TV show
as a whole. For this reason, some researchers
believe that small number of cells in our brain
might become attached to a concept (either
Jennifer Aniston or a particular brand), firing
whenever that concept is evoked.

In Focus
11
Making memories

Networking with Justin
The affective memories reinforced by McDonalds
in the mind of our cinemagoer are rooted less in
personal experience than in association with an
emotionally resonant figure. The girl in question
has been a Justin Timberlake fan since her
early teenage years. Back then, a sight of Justin
would reliably trigger a flood of hormone-driven
emotions and in her early twenties, the legacy
of those hormones are especially strengthened
networks of Timberlake-related memories.
McDonalds earned a place within these
affective memory networks when it hired Justin
Timberlake to perform the vocal for its “I’m
lovin’ it” global advertising campaign. When our
21-year old girl saw Justin playing a supporting
role in The Social Network film, her Timberlake
memory networks fired up, and McDonalds
sprang unconsciously to mind.

are particularly resonant and relevant to the
individuals constituting a target audience. The
strategies are not simply emotional; they are
affective, aligning with personal motivations,
goals and identities. However, creating and

reinforcing affective memories does not in
itself guarantee outcomes. In both cases, the
circumstances of the present have a powerful
role to play in influencing how the memory will
be perceived and acted upon.

Both of these examples show the power of
developing brand strategies that do not just
trigger emotion, but recall emotions that

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In Focus
12
Beyond Justin:
audio hooks and affective memories
In investing in Justin Timberlake as the audio
hook for its brand, McDonalds has followed a
well-established strategy. The power of music
in influencing choice has been demonstrated by
an experiment in which supermarket shoppers
were played “recognisably” French or German
music (featuring accordians and oompah bands

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to appeal to established national stereotypes
in their minds). When the “French” music was
played, French wine outsold German by five
to one. When the German music was heard,
German wines achieved double the sales of their
French rivals.

In Focus
13
Making memories

Circumstance takes a hand
The likelihood of the young man actually
ordering the bottle of Corona that he sees
in the pub depends upon his present social
context – and how he views the younger
version of himself that rushes to mind when he
sees it. Does he view this self as immature and
reckless compared to the present day? Or does
he see him as a youthful ideal with emotions
and experiences with which he would love to
reconnect? In dealing with affective memories,
an understanding of their present context for
a target audience is equally as important as
understanding the triggers that are likely to
recall them to mind.

Our cinema-goer’s memories have learned
over time that Justin Timberlake is no longer
connected to Britney Spears, despite their once
being the most famous couple in the world. If
the association is not consistently reinforced,
they may one day learn that he is no longer
connected to McDonald’s. In the case of our
Swiss wine students, the affective memories
associated with the prestigious vintage were

strong and relevant enough to override present
experience when they believed themselves to be
tasting that wine. Among amateur wine buffs,
with weaker memories associated with that
vineyard, present-day experience may have won
out instead – and caused the prestigious label to
become associated, cruelly and unfairly, with the
taste of cheap plonk.

Some researchers have suggested that in
certain situations, the changed circumstances
in which a memory is recalled can actually
cause the memory itself to be changed or
“reconsolidated”, with certain connections
being eroded, others being reinforced and
new ones being added (bearing in mind that
we remember things far more effectively when
they relate to something we already know).

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In Focus
14
Making memories

Updating the brand narrative
When our learned experience is contradicted
by present experience, the potential emerges
for memories to become reconsolidated, taking
on different connotations and influencing our
actions in new ways.

Neuroscientists disagree about the extent
and frequency of reconsolidation, but the
possibility of shifts in the form of our memories
is a significant one for brands. Memory
reconsolidation emphasises the importance of
understanding how consumers experience a
brand across a range of different touchpoints.
It also suggests tactical approaches that can
keep a brand in control of its narrative even if it
becomes fragmented and distorted within our
memories. And it provides an opportunity to
associate a brand more closely with the things
that its target audience already cares about.
Those neuroscientists that argue for the fairly
regular occurrence of reconsolidation suggest
that novelty is one of the triggers that enable

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it to take place. When we recognise that an
experience differs significantly from our learned
expectations, the hippocampus appears alerted
to the possibility of connecting it up differently.
However not all new things are important
enough to invest in updating our memories – it
is those that we care about (and that relate to
strong networks already established in our brain)
that are most likely to be integrated into our
memories. Balancing novelty and consistency
in brand messaging and finding new ways to
connect to an audience members’ affective
networks, can help to keep a brand in control of
its narrative – and it can extend that narrative to
new areas, connecting it to existing memories
within our neural networks.

In Focus
15
Making memories

Affective brand planning
It is becoming clear that effective brand
planning is affective brand planning. A brand
that has established genuine power in the
minds of consumers is itself a form of affective
memory. As such it is a powerful asset, but
one that cannot be wholly controlled from
a distance. As Proust understood so well,

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our memories are very much our own. They
are the product of individual experience
and the particular paths that our lives take.
Affective brand planning requires marketers
to develop strategies that reflect the different
forces forming and shaping associations
within consumers’ brains, and enlisting tools
such as emotion and novelty to help create

powerful affective memories. Equally though,
it requires brands to develop an individualbased understanding of the minds and
memories of the consumers they target. It is
by understanding more deeply the various
circumstances in which affective memories are
formed, consolidated and recalled that we can
most reliably direct them towards fulfilling brand
objectives.

In Focus
16
You may
be interested in...
The secret life of the brain – Kyle Findlay >
The trouble with tracking – Jan Hofmeyr >

About the author
Franck Sarrazit is Global Director of TNS’s Brand &
Communications practice, focusing on developing complete
solutions that help key clients grow their brands, assess
obstacles to strategic effectiveness and track performance.
Prior to joining TNS in 2012, Franck held roles with Procter
& Gamble and Synovate, as well as working in brand
consulting, delivering high profile global research projects.
Franck is an expert in psychoanalytic research and uses this
expertise to build brands.
Franck was born in France but has been living abroad for
the past 20 years. He obtained both his Masters and Ph.D.
while studying in England.

References

Remembrance of Things Past - Marcel Proust
Memory in the Real World, third edition - edited by Gillian
Cohen and Martin Conway; Psychology Press
The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and
Remembers - by Daniel L. Schacter; Souvenir Press Ltd
The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the
Making of Conciousness – by Antonio Damasio; Harcourt:
New York
Thinking, Fast and Slow – by Daniel Kahneman; Farrar, Straus
and Giroux: New York
Emotion and Reason: The Cognitive Neuroscience of Decision
Making – by Alain Berthoz, translated by Giselle Weiss; OUP
Oxford
Neural Correlates of Behavioral Preference for Culturally
Familiar Drinks - by Samuel M. McClure, Jian Li, Damon
Tomlin, Kim S. Cypert, Latane´ M. Montague and P. Read
Montague; Baylor College of Medicine

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In Focus
17
About In Focus
In Focus is part of a regular series of articles that takes an in-depth look at a particular subject, region or
demographic in more detail. All articles are written by TNS consultants and based on their expertise gathered
through working on client assignments in over 80 markets globally, with additional insights gained through
TNS proprietary studies such as Digital Life, Mobile Life and The Commitment Economy.
About TNS
TNS advises clients on specific growth strategies around new market entry, innovation, brand switching and
stakeholder management, based on long-established expertise and market-leading solutions. With a presence
in over 80 countries, TNS has more conversations with the world’s consumers than anyone else and understands
individual human behaviours and attitudes across every cultural, economic and political region of the world.
TNS is part of Kantar, one of the world’s largest insight, information and consultancy groups.
Please visit www.tnsglobal.com for more information.
Get in touch
If you would like to talk to us about anything you have read in this report, please get in touch via
enquiries@tnsglobal.com or via Twitter @tns_global

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In Focus
18

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In focus making memories

  • 1. Brain Game Opinion Leader Making memories Share this In Focus
  • 2. Making memories Memories exist to help us make decisions. Understanding how they do it promises to give brands and marketers a powerful edge. Share this In Focus 2
  • 3. Making memories A young man walks into his local bar and as his attention focuses on a bottle of Corona, his mind suddenly turns to a girl he kissed on a beach holiday in Mexico five years before; a 21-yearold girl walks out of the cinema after watching The Social Network and feels an overriding urge to eat a Big Mac; a taste tester swiftly changes his preference when told which of the drinks he is comparing is Coca-Cola; and in Switzerland, a student of wine stares incredulously when he is told that the vintage that he has just praised profusely is in fact the same cheap plonk that he has tasted and dismissed as worthless a few minutes before. Share this These are all examples of the power of affective memories, powerful associations that can leap unbidden to our attention through the activation of patterns of neurons in our brains, often by seemingly unrelated triggers. The first two are everyday examples of the ways in which these memories influence the fortunes of brands. The final two are taken from groundbreaking experiments that have sought to shed light on how. In Focus 3
  • 4. Making memories Memory games In the first of these experiments, a famous taste-off between The Coca-Cola company and Pepsi orchestrated by the neuroscientist Samuel McClure in 2004, tasters were first asked to sample the two drinks in a blind test. When they did so, preference was split roughly equally between the rival colas. However, when they were then served the drinks from branded containers, Coke became the favourite. Interestingly, fMRI scans of the tasters’ brains showed significantly different brain activity when knowingly drinking Coca-Cola than when consuming it blind. When it comes to enjoying Coca-Cola, something other than tastebuds is clearly at work. had been poured into two of the bottles: one the bottle of a prestigious vintage; the other a younger, less prestigious label. The labels exerted a great influence on the scores this wine received: it drew positive scores and reviews when poured from an expensive bottle, and scathing ones when associated with a cheaper label. When told what had happened, all students had a hard time believing they had actually tasted the same wine on both occasions. The wine experiment provides more evidence as to what. In it, students of oenology were presented with four different bottles of wine and asked to taste them, rate them and then justify the scores that they gave to each. Unbeknownst to them, their drinks had been tampered with. A mediocre wine of poor quality Share this In Focus 4
  • 5. The remembering self and the experiencing self In his landmark book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman explores the potential difference between our “experiencing self” and our “remembering self”, pointing out in the process that our memories of an event can be reconsolidated while the event itself is still ongoing. If a diner in a restaurant experiences a wonderful five-course meal only to have a waiter spill a glass of red wine all over his finest suit at the end of it, it is this final memory that dominates Share this how the event itself is remembered (in this case as a negative experience). Likewise a bad experience that ends well will be remembered positively and recalled as a positive memory. As Kahneman puts it: “The remembering self is sometimes wrong, but it is the one that keeps score and governs what we learn from living, and it is the one that makes decisions. What we learn from the past is to maximise the qualities of our future memories”. In Focus 5
  • 6. Making memories The triumph of memory over (present) experience Both the wine tasters and their cola equivalents had been fooled by the powerful role that traces of the past play in preparing our brains for the future. As neuroscientists come to understand more about how memories form and re-form, they are realizing that anticipating experiences in this way is a vital part of their role. So much so that our most powerful memories may actually supplant or override our experiences in the present. In our wine example, the brains of the students were already equipped with knowledge of the prestigious vintages and this memory trumped actual taste when it came to experiencing the wine. Could brands play a similar role, acting not just as the promise of enjoyment but actually causing us to experience that enjoyment as well? The cola example appears to show that they can, with the presence of a favoured brand bringing memory networks into play and producing a more positive experience. Such influence within the mind is a powerful asset for any brand to possess. Share this But our understanding of exactly how it forms – and how brands can act to improve their position within the brain – is only beginning to emerge. this is the hippocampus at work. Its business, the business of memory, is connecting different elements of our experience together. The busy librarian Our knowledge of how memories are recorded, consolidated, recalled and reconsolidated has been transformed in recent years. We now understand that memory is dispersed, with various representations of an experience encoded in different parts of the brain simultaneously. These different perspectives on our memories are connected together through the direction of the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped structure located near the brain’s temporal lobe. Imagine a librarian surrounded by shelves that contain not carefully bound, complete books relating different episodes and aspects of our lives, but simply piles and piles of individual pages. When a visitor requests information on a specific subject (when a memory is evoked), the librarian must fly around these shelves, pulling together as many pages as it can find that were recorded at the time and then compiling them together into a coherent volume: At the intersection of past and present This process of connecting one set of information with another is as relevant to our future as it is to our past. The evidence of fMRI scans shows that the parts of our brain we use when remembering overlap substantially with the parts that we use when anticipating or imagining the future. Memories are the basis of our learning and planning, and their intersection with the present is a complex one. It is our present circumstances that influence which memories rush to our minds and the form that they take when they are recalled. And as our wine example shows, present and remembered experience can compete with one another when it comes to establishing what is actually happening. Evidence is even emerging that our present experiences may cause certain parts of our memories to be “reconsolidated”, editing associations, replacing them with new ones and colouring our recall of the past. In Focus 6
  • 7. Making memories Proust on Neuroscience Despite this impressive recent accumulation of neuroscientific knowledge, the best evocation of how memory intersects with present experience remains that written by Marcel Proust in Remembrance of Things Past (1913), in which he describes how the unfamiliar taste of Madeleine biscuit mixed with tea causes happy memories of a long-forgotten aunt to rush to Share this his mind. The sensation that Proust describes is powerfully emotional, enough to make him shudder and pause, even though it seems to relate to a very ordinary experience. It is a classic example of an affective memory, which takes its power from emotional resonance and deep personal relevance rather than the detail of what it describes, and which has immense potential to influence actions in the present. Neuroscientists think of our memories as collections of independent but interconnected sub-systems that deal with different types of information and knowledge: autobiographic memory storing personal events and details (such as the memory of the aunt hidden away in Proust’s head), semantic memory handling general knowledge about the world (which informed him that the biscuit he was eating was known as a Madeleine), procedural memory governing how we carry out tasks and routines (which helped him to sip his tea) and perceptive memory relating to images, sounds and other senses (which helped him to recognise the taste of it). These memories become “affective”, with the ability to spring powerfully to mind and influence our experience and anticipation in the present, when they are associated with events of emotional or other significance to the individual in question. In Proust’s case, he recognises the emotion of happiness that connects the different aspects of his Madeleine memory together – even though it refers to events so long ago that his autobiographic memory cannot recall the detail of them. In Focus 7
  • 8. Marcel Proust on affective memories An extract from Remembrance of Things Past (1913) One day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,”. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. I feel something start within me, something that leaves its resting-place and attempts to rise, something that has been embedded like an anchor at a great depth; I do not know yet what it is, but I can feel it mounting slowly; I can measure the resistance. Share this And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents. In Focus 8
  • 9. Making memories The power of affect The connections between the neurons constituting our memories can be strengthened or weakened by chemical processes. It is well established that “neurons that fire together, wire together” reinforcing their connections through a process knows as Long-term Potentiation (LTP) and thus springing to mind as a cohesive memory more readily than others. In our library analogy, the hippocampus-librarian quickly finds that some pages stick together automatically, making it easier to organise them into the right book – and that these books start to fall open at the same pages time and time again. In this way, our brain begins to classify certain memories as more relevant and significant than others. Over time, these wellestablished memories can even be accessed independently of the hippocampus, since the connections between them are so powerful. And the memories that dominate this ranking system are those strengthened by affective forces. Share this We have long known that emotion plays a powerful role in directing our attention, and prioritising what we remember. Emotion signals to the brain that we care about something – and therefore that our attention should be focused on it. Through the chemicals that it releases, it strengthens neural connections, increasing the chances of memories being recalled as a powerful, cohesive whole to help guide our future actions. It is often the most emotion-inducing elements of an event that dominate our recall of it (explaining why witnesses to an armed robbery can often describe the gun in far more detail than the person holding it). However, it is not simply the emotional content of a memory that categorises it as important. Memories that intersect closely with goals, motivations, ambitions and identity can equally become strengthened through Long-term Potentiation. The most powerful affective memories occur when these two forces align – when an emotionally resonant memory is particularly significant to the individual concerned, ensuring a strong and regularly reinforced memory pattern. In Focus 9
  • 10. Making memories Brands and memory Returning to our everyday examples, we can see how individual emotional significance, and the way in which it creates affective memories, can work to the benefit of brands. Our visitor to his local bar is affected by the bottle of Corona, not just because it is associated with emotion, but because it is associated with a particularly significant emotion for him personally. He was drinking Corona when he kissed the girl. It brings vivid memories, thoughts and feelings not just of a beach and the sun, but of a younger, more romantic version of himself. But the association of Corona with his Mexican fling isn’t just the result of his memory of the event itself. On various occasions in the five years’ since, he has encountered Corona advertising linking the brand with sunny climes, partying lifestyles and sexy women, and this advertising has reinforced the connections between these constituent elements that form his affective memory. Share this In understanding the context in which its target audience experiences its brand, and reinforcing the resultant affective memories through consistent advertising messages, Corona’s advertising has regularly reminded the pages in the hippocampus-librarian’s book that they belong together; it has ensured that this is a book that is very easy to recreate when the circumstances suggest it. Corona is in control of its brand narrative and can predict with some certainty how the narrative will play out in the mind of a great many individuals. In Focus 10
  • 11. The Jennifer Aniston neuron In a recent experiment, the neuroscientist Quian Quiroga demonstrated how single brain cells may become associated both with specific concepts and broader memories, through following the activity of what he termed the Jennifer Aniston neuron. This is the neuron that fired within the brain of a subject when they were shown pictures of the Friends actress, but not when they were shown pictures of other famous actresses or completely unrelated objects such as the Sydney Opera House. The Jennifer Aniston neuron was associated specifically with Jennifer Aniston. It fired in response to photographs of her in different Share this outfits; even in response to the mention of her name; but never to, for example, Katie Holmes wearing a dress previously worn by Jennifer Aniston. Intriguingly though, in the case of some people, the Jennifer Aniston neuron also fired in response other actors or actresses from Friends. As well as being associated with Jen specifically, it also appeared to form part of a network of neurons that related to the TV show as a whole. For this reason, some researchers believe that small number of cells in our brain might become attached to a concept (either Jennifer Aniston or a particular brand), firing whenever that concept is evoked. In Focus 11
  • 12. Making memories Networking with Justin The affective memories reinforced by McDonalds in the mind of our cinemagoer are rooted less in personal experience than in association with an emotionally resonant figure. The girl in question has been a Justin Timberlake fan since her early teenage years. Back then, a sight of Justin would reliably trigger a flood of hormone-driven emotions and in her early twenties, the legacy of those hormones are especially strengthened networks of Timberlake-related memories. McDonalds earned a place within these affective memory networks when it hired Justin Timberlake to perform the vocal for its “I’m lovin’ it” global advertising campaign. When our 21-year old girl saw Justin playing a supporting role in The Social Network film, her Timberlake memory networks fired up, and McDonalds sprang unconsciously to mind. are particularly resonant and relevant to the individuals constituting a target audience. The strategies are not simply emotional; they are affective, aligning with personal motivations, goals and identities. However, creating and reinforcing affective memories does not in itself guarantee outcomes. In both cases, the circumstances of the present have a powerful role to play in influencing how the memory will be perceived and acted upon. Both of these examples show the power of developing brand strategies that do not just trigger emotion, but recall emotions that Share this In Focus 12
  • 13. Beyond Justin: audio hooks and affective memories In investing in Justin Timberlake as the audio hook for its brand, McDonalds has followed a well-established strategy. The power of music in influencing choice has been demonstrated by an experiment in which supermarket shoppers were played “recognisably” French or German music (featuring accordians and oompah bands Share this to appeal to established national stereotypes in their minds). When the “French” music was played, French wine outsold German by five to one. When the German music was heard, German wines achieved double the sales of their French rivals. In Focus 13
  • 14. Making memories Circumstance takes a hand The likelihood of the young man actually ordering the bottle of Corona that he sees in the pub depends upon his present social context – and how he views the younger version of himself that rushes to mind when he sees it. Does he view this self as immature and reckless compared to the present day? Or does he see him as a youthful ideal with emotions and experiences with which he would love to reconnect? In dealing with affective memories, an understanding of their present context for a target audience is equally as important as understanding the triggers that are likely to recall them to mind. Our cinema-goer’s memories have learned over time that Justin Timberlake is no longer connected to Britney Spears, despite their once being the most famous couple in the world. If the association is not consistently reinforced, they may one day learn that he is no longer connected to McDonald’s. In the case of our Swiss wine students, the affective memories associated with the prestigious vintage were strong and relevant enough to override present experience when they believed themselves to be tasting that wine. Among amateur wine buffs, with weaker memories associated with that vineyard, present-day experience may have won out instead – and caused the prestigious label to become associated, cruelly and unfairly, with the taste of cheap plonk. Some researchers have suggested that in certain situations, the changed circumstances in which a memory is recalled can actually cause the memory itself to be changed or “reconsolidated”, with certain connections being eroded, others being reinforced and new ones being added (bearing in mind that we remember things far more effectively when they relate to something we already know). Share this In Focus 14
  • 15. Making memories Updating the brand narrative When our learned experience is contradicted by present experience, the potential emerges for memories to become reconsolidated, taking on different connotations and influencing our actions in new ways. Neuroscientists disagree about the extent and frequency of reconsolidation, but the possibility of shifts in the form of our memories is a significant one for brands. Memory reconsolidation emphasises the importance of understanding how consumers experience a brand across a range of different touchpoints. It also suggests tactical approaches that can keep a brand in control of its narrative even if it becomes fragmented and distorted within our memories. And it provides an opportunity to associate a brand more closely with the things that its target audience already cares about. Those neuroscientists that argue for the fairly regular occurrence of reconsolidation suggest that novelty is one of the triggers that enable Share this it to take place. When we recognise that an experience differs significantly from our learned expectations, the hippocampus appears alerted to the possibility of connecting it up differently. However not all new things are important enough to invest in updating our memories – it is those that we care about (and that relate to strong networks already established in our brain) that are most likely to be integrated into our memories. Balancing novelty and consistency in brand messaging and finding new ways to connect to an audience members’ affective networks, can help to keep a brand in control of its narrative – and it can extend that narrative to new areas, connecting it to existing memories within our neural networks. In Focus 15
  • 16. Making memories Affective brand planning It is becoming clear that effective brand planning is affective brand planning. A brand that has established genuine power in the minds of consumers is itself a form of affective memory. As such it is a powerful asset, but one that cannot be wholly controlled from a distance. As Proust understood so well, Share this our memories are very much our own. They are the product of individual experience and the particular paths that our lives take. Affective brand planning requires marketers to develop strategies that reflect the different forces forming and shaping associations within consumers’ brains, and enlisting tools such as emotion and novelty to help create powerful affective memories. Equally though, it requires brands to develop an individualbased understanding of the minds and memories of the consumers they target. It is by understanding more deeply the various circumstances in which affective memories are formed, consolidated and recalled that we can most reliably direct them towards fulfilling brand objectives. In Focus 16
  • 17. You may be interested in... The secret life of the brain – Kyle Findlay > The trouble with tracking – Jan Hofmeyr > About the author Franck Sarrazit is Global Director of TNS’s Brand & Communications practice, focusing on developing complete solutions that help key clients grow their brands, assess obstacles to strategic effectiveness and track performance. Prior to joining TNS in 2012, Franck held roles with Procter & Gamble and Synovate, as well as working in brand consulting, delivering high profile global research projects. Franck is an expert in psychoanalytic research and uses this expertise to build brands. Franck was born in France but has been living abroad for the past 20 years. He obtained both his Masters and Ph.D. while studying in England. References Remembrance of Things Past - Marcel Proust Memory in the Real World, third edition - edited by Gillian Cohen and Martin Conway; Psychology Press The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers - by Daniel L. Schacter; Souvenir Press Ltd The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Conciousness – by Antonio Damasio; Harcourt: New York Thinking, Fast and Slow – by Daniel Kahneman; Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York Emotion and Reason: The Cognitive Neuroscience of Decision Making – by Alain Berthoz, translated by Giselle Weiss; OUP Oxford Neural Correlates of Behavioral Preference for Culturally Familiar Drinks - by Samuel M. McClure, Jian Li, Damon Tomlin, Kim S. Cypert, Latane´ M. Montague and P. Read Montague; Baylor College of Medicine Share this In Focus 17
  • 18. About In Focus In Focus is part of a regular series of articles that takes an in-depth look at a particular subject, region or demographic in more detail. All articles are written by TNS consultants and based on their expertise gathered through working on client assignments in over 80 markets globally, with additional insights gained through TNS proprietary studies such as Digital Life, Mobile Life and The Commitment Economy. About TNS TNS advises clients on specific growth strategies around new market entry, innovation, brand switching and stakeholder management, based on long-established expertise and market-leading solutions. With a presence in over 80 countries, TNS has more conversations with the world’s consumers than anyone else and understands individual human behaviours and attitudes across every cultural, economic and political region of the world. TNS is part of Kantar, one of the world’s largest insight, information and consultancy groups. Please visit www.tnsglobal.com for more information. Get in touch If you would like to talk to us about anything you have read in this report, please get in touch via enquiries@tnsglobal.com or via Twitter @tns_global Share this In Focus 18