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Science under the hood 4: Low attention processing, Implicit memory

December 20, 2015 0 Comments

This post is part of a series covering the 10 most important scientific principles underlying neuromarketing.

Low attention processing

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Another counterintuitive finding that is important to neuromarketing is the discovery that attention may not be good for advertising effectiveness. Attention would seem to be a necessary condition for advertising effectiveness, but brain research has shown that “obvious” truth to sometimes be at odds with the realities of System 1 processing, emotional responses, conditioning, and implicit memory. Ads that rely on emotional connections and repetitive conditioning to reinforce brand associations can paradoxically have a greater effect on us when we aren’t paying attention to them than when we are.

As described in Chapter 11 (“Advertising Effectiveness”), low-attention processing operates as part of the indirect route to advertising effectiveness. Unlike logical persuasion, conditioning does not require attention to create memories and learning. On the contrary, research shows that attention may actually inhibit effective conditioning, because it can trigger counterarguing in the mind of the viewer. Nothing kills the impact of an amusing ad more than stopping to realize just how illogical its basic premise actually is.

Leveraging low-attention processing does not make sense when advertising
a new product, or when trying to convince people to take a direct action, like make a donation or call a toll-free number. But more and more campaigns appear to be embracing the low-attention processing model to build more positive associations with brands without communicating any kind of explicit persuasive message. To the extent that resistance to marketing and persuasive appeal is high, marketing that takes advantage of the low-attention processing principle will provide an alternative way for marketers to build product and brand relationships with consumers.

Implicit memory

implicit-memoryImplicit memory is another amazing nonconscious process that underlies many neuromarketing principles and measurement techniques. Because we naturally think of memorization as effortful, the idea that our brains can constantly record limitless amounts of information without any conscious effort is at first hard to accept. But upon reflection, it seems inevitable. How else can we remember where we put the keys, how to ride a bike, or how to find our way back to that new Starbucks we discovered yesterday?

As we show in Chapter 11, implicit memory has some extraordinary properties:

  • Whereas explicit memory requires effort, fades relatively quickly, and has to be reinforced regularly, implicit memory is triggered effortlessly and appears to last indefinitely.
  • Implicit memory operates automatically, outside our conscious awareness, so we have no direct control over it.
  • Implicit memory doesn’t depend on attention.
  • Implicit memory has a huge capacity compared to explicit memory.

A final important property of implicit memory is that it can’t be voluntarily recalled, so it’s invisible to all methodologies that rely on self-reported recall. The only way it can be measured is by using indirect neuromarketing techniques like the word-completion task described in Chapter 13 (“When Consumers’ Brains Go Online”).

N4D-cover -120pxThis post is excerpted, with minor edits, from Neuromarketing for Dummies, Chapter 24, “Ten Scientific Pillars Underlying Neuromarketing.”

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About the Author:

Steve is a writer, speaker, researcher, and marketing consultant. He is author of Intuitive Marketing (2019), a study of persuasion and influence in marketing theory and practice, and co-author of Neuromarketing for Dummies (2013), a comprehensive overview of neuromarketing science, applications, methodologies, and ethics. He is Managing Partner at Intuitive Consumer Insights, where he focuses on marketing education and consulting.

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