advertising, researching

Implicit vs Explicit Memory

this ad for Virgin Trains nearly didn’t get made.  which would have been a great shame.  it nearly didn’t get made because its the kind of ad that fails pretesting with consumers.  it fails because when we are asked directly about something we recall explicit not implicit memories.  the theory goes like this…

How_stimulus_is_recalled_one_3our initial gut feel or reaction to a stimulus is stored implicitly, once we consciously process that stimulus – ie think about it – we form an explicit memory of that stimulus.  when we are asked to articulate our perceptions of something (eg an ad) its our explicit memory that we recall.  because of this conscious processing it’s open to counter argument – something Virgin Trains wanted to avoid coming out of a wave of negative publicity.  they couldn’t attempt to change people’s heads without first changing their hearts.

after consumers were talked thru the script, they recalled their explicit perceptions of Virgin Trains, which were inherently negative.  they couldn’t articulate their gut feel – ie their implicit recall, which duckfoot were able to prove was very positive.  this is how they did it…


the response to part 3 was – as expected – negative.  and the ad may have been killed there and then.  but by repeating part 1 duckfoot were able to identify the implicit memory of the ad, and its affect on the perceptions of Virgin Trains…  in theory 1 and 4 should be the same, but they weren’t.  the stimulus had fundamentally changed the subjects’ implicit perceptions of Virgin – for the better.  and so the ad got made.  and we all got to see it.  which is nice.

it’s also worth noting that back in 1977, Hasher, Goldstein, & Toppino showed how implicit memory also leads to the illusion-of-truth effect; which suggests that subjects are more likely to rate as true statements that they have already heard, regardless of how true they are.

in short, the very act of saying something in an ad and having consumers implicitly hear it is enough to lead a consumer to recall that statement as true.  so a medium like TV, which is often processed with low involvement and therefore stored straight to implicit memory, is great at making viewers think something is true, whether it is or not!


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