The Power of Memorable Content
Emotion influences memory. That, as they say, is ‘a fact’. It’s why we remember exactly what we were doing on the morning of September 11th 2001 but probably have no idea what we were doing on September 11th 2019. Highly emotional events are processed and ‘banked’ in our long-term memory, whilst more mundane activities go straight in the ‘forget’ bin.
What does this mean for marketeers? If we discover how and why an emotional experience creates a more engrained memory, could we use this information to create storytelling that we can confidently know will influence brand choice?
The why according to the World Economic forum comes down to the chemical composition of the brain. ‘When we get emotional, the amygdala in our brain is stimulated and our bodies secrete adrenaline. Somehow, these two processes work on the hippocampus, which is the centre of memory function, and our memories for that time period are sharpened.’
The how is a question audience behaviour experts have been puzzling over for some time. The BBC’s 2018 Science of Memory* study is one of them, using the latest neuroscience techniques to look into how emotions impact memory – and how brands can use this technology to create impactful emotional moments that lead to long-term memory creation.
To do this the BBC’s commercial entity StoryWorks have developed a tool called the ‘Science of Engagement**’ which tracks the emotional impact of the content they create for brands. Using sophisticated facial coding data and Steady State Topography (which tracks electrical activity in your brain) they were able to assess the emotional impact of 6 films on over 2000 participants. Through their analysis they tracked the degree of emotional intensity and long-term memory coding second by second of all who viewed the films and they came up with some interesting findings.
What they discovered confirmed that emotions are a key trigger of memory. Whether it be happiness, curiosity, shock or fear – their findings concluded that there is no such thing as a bad emotion for creating long term memory and that the higher the emotional spike within a piece of content the more likely a long-term memory would be created.
They also found that by strategically writing emotional ‘spikes’ across the narrative, a greater result of memory encoding could be engineered. The report recommends that emotional spikes should be used throughout the content (at least 10 times throughout in fact) rather then build to a climax at the end of a piece and it is the spikes within the first third of the content that will deliver the higher chance of memory recall at a later date.
And perhaps most interestingly they discovered that moments of heightened emotion trigger the memory encoding very shortly afterwards. So, by having some subtle product placement in the ‘memory window’ just after an emotional spike you can potentially offer brands a greater opportunity of that product/brand being stored in the audience’s long memory to increase the chances of recall at a later date.
But is the ability to inform the creative through strategic, emotion-based storytelling really the key to creating content that influences brand choice?
Ipsos***’ Gailynn Nicks and Yannick Carriou agree that emotion-based advertising can be highly effective, but believe that the key to producing influential content is situating it in a strong and consistent brand framework where the stories are relevant to the audiences’ personal goals and tastes.
‘Capturing people’s attention and making sure your emotional advertising is both encoded and retrieved as you would like requires more than a good story with moments of intensity. It needs to be contextually motivating and linked to the brand.’
Brand recall is strongly linked with brand choice and so the ability to affect memory through ‘engineered’ content is hugely beneficial but by no means the only route to success. Both studies concur that emotion for the sake of it won’t be effective if the narrative and the brand message aren’t delivered in a way that resonates with the audience.
What these new findings do offer us is the ability to strike a balance between leveraging the impact of strategically used emotion in storytelling along side the creation of brilliantly crafted content that connects to the viewer in the right environment.
And by keeping the ‘science’ of emotion in mind from the start of the narrative and production process we do have an increased ability to create content that connects, impacts and ultimately influences brand choice.