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Best New Thinking Winner 2010

Create More – Memories

Memories are made of this

My 12 year old wasn’t watching the England Portugal debacle on Euro 2004. Because the computer is out of direct sightline of the TV. He was however totally involved in the game. Every few seconds he would dart forward from his chair and check the TV screen. Then it was back to MSN to message his mates. There were 5 of them. Most were able to watch and “commentate on the game” – one was posting from a laptop. What struck me was that they prioritised interacting with one another over just sitting and concentrating on the match.

Now apart from making me feel old – what’s wrong with being a spectator anyway? this ought to send a shiver down the spine of anyone involved in mass communications. Because until now the commercial opportunity has been defined by aiming messages at audiences glued to the screen. What if the audience doesn’t want to sit still and follow the programming stream. What if they are more interested in one another’s views than that of the tele pundits? How are we supposed to get advertising messages through now?

What most communications patently fails to take into account is how human interaction filters and fixes memory. It was the philosopher John Locke who described the human mind as a blank on which knowledge was placed. Three and a half centuries later this is still the prevailing model of how we retain information. Somebody shoves it in and it sticks. In How Customers Think Zaltman provides a case study practical of how plastic memories can be. Take two people who have shared an experience which was a positive one say a great night out. Then get one of them to challenge whether it really was such a good night out. You can track the shift in perceptions to the point where the memory has been entirely changed and the night perceived to be something of a disaster.

What is even more interesting is that it is possible to identify different kinds of memories. When I was working on the binge drinking project at the end of 2003 Gill Ereaut found me a remarkable paper by David Giles (Sage 1999) about retrospective accounts of drunken behaviour. Using discourse analysis – it is possible to distinguish between people’s actual memories of a night of revelry and shared memories which came when their mates told them how outrageously they had behaved. Fundamental to binge drinking is the reconstruction and celebration of the binge the morning after the night before. The binge is in part a social construct.

The verbal construction of memories should therefore be a priority for creative development research. Last month I was sitting in a Japanese restaurant in Soho listening to 2 Chinese girls switching from Cantonese to English when one wanted to extol the virtues of her new mobile phone. Now I wasn’t able able to follow the Cantonese part of the conversation. But the decision to use English, the subject matter and phrasing used is all accessible using straightforwad research techniques. There is more to this than “viral”. All this references is one person passing on information to another.The value of viral marketing can only be realised when you understand the social context in which the information is being transmitted and you understand how best to code and sequence the brand message so it fufils it’s social purpose and can be passed easily. But viral also needs to take into account how the message is modulated through transmission. There’s a major study on viral marketing out in the market now which has no qualitative component at all – so isn’t worth the paper it is written on. Curiously enough I developed a research proposal myself a few weeks ago to look at exactly this area using discourse analysis.

So here’s the first takeout to help you to help others to create more than they consume. It ain’t in the ad or the mailpack. The valuable part is created in transit. All you gotta do is identify it and make it work for you! And um what kind of tracking study do you need to measure this? Well not one that begins What brands have you seen advertised recently??





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