The Role of Consumer Memory in Advertising

Nicole Votolato Montgomery & H Rao Unnava. Handbook of Advertising. Editor: Gerard J Tellis & Tim Ambler. Sage Publications. 2007.

Since most advertising occurs in a non-purchase context (e.g., watching a television programme, reading a bill board while driving home), the effect of advertising on purchase behaviour should mostly occur through a consumer’s memory for the information presented in the advertisement. Consumer researchers have long recognized the critical role played by memory in mediating advertising effects on consumption (e.g., Lavidge and Steiner, 1961), and most information-processing models explicitly recognize the role of encoding and retrieval of brand information in affecting purchase behaviour (e.g., Consumer Information Processing Model, Shimp, 2007). Therefore, memory for an advertisement has important implications for persuasion and may be influenced by certain advertisement and consumer characteristics that are discussed at length in other chapters of this book.

In addition to traditional areas of research in memory, more recent investigations have provided greater understanding in areas such as categorization (e.g., Rajagopal and Burnkrant, 2006) and interference (e.g., Kumar and Krishnan, 2004). Newer areas such as preconscious processing of advertisements (e.g., Shapiro, 1999) have also received substantial attention. Finally, current research has introduced techniques in cognitive neuroscience to better understand where neural activity occurs in response to advertisements (e.g., Ambler et al., 2000).

In this chapter, we provide marketers with a comprehensive account of the role of memory in advertising by integrating new findings in this area with long-standing research. The first section focuses on the traditional two-store model of memory and examines differences between short-term memory and long-term memory. Next, we look into the factors that affect the encoding of advertising information with a focus on attention, preconscious processing, and elaboration. Thirdly, we explore the storage and organization of information in memory. After that, we discuss the retrieval of advertising information. Several issues are explored in this section including retrieval of information from short-term memory and long-term memory, repetition and spacing effects, interference, the role of cues in retrieval, affect, and reconstructive memory. After discussing cognitive neuroscience underlying memory for advertisements, the last section provides a summary.

Long-Term Memory versus Short-Term Memory

Traditional models of memory have proposed that memory consists of two separate storage systems: short-term memory (STM) and long-term memory (LTM) (Atkinson and Shiffrin, 1968; Waugh and Norman, 1965; Craik and Lockhart, 1972; Raaijmakers and Shiffrin, 1981). LTM is a relatively permanent memory storage system. Once information has been transferred to this storage system, then it may be retrieved at any time if the appropriate retrieval cue is used to access the information from memory. Thus, any errors in accessing information stored in LTM are the result of retrieval error, not encoding error. That is, respondents that are having difficulty remembering a piece of information that is stored in LTM are simply not using the correct accessibility cue; the information is not lost from memory. STM is only a temporary storage system. Information stored in STM is accessible because this information is activated through rehearsal. In the absence of rehearsal, the information will be lost from memory through a process of decay (Nairne, 2002). Thus, any errors in recalling information stored in STM may be attributed to the information no longer being in that storage system as a result of the passage of time.

While the standard model of memory asserts that STM accessibility arises from keeping information activated via rehearsal, a more recent model of memory (i.e., modern model) has proposed that STM may be cue-driven like LTM, with different retrieval cues in effect for each memory store (Nairne, 2002). Thus, the modern model of memory asserts that “people forget with an increasing delay because retrieval cues change with time—not because of spontaneous decay,” (p. 74). While there is evidence that STM may remain constant or even improve after a delay in some cases (e.g., Nairne, 2002; Healy and McNamara, 1996), providing support against the traditional model of memory, there is not enough evidence for the modern model of memory to preclude that rehearsal and decay will play a role in STM (Healy and McNamara, 1996). Therefore, in this chapter we assume that purchase decisions are typically impacted more by advertising information that is stored in LTM because much advertising is temporally removed from the purchase situation. The manner in which advertising information is encoded and later retrieve from LTM will be discussed later in the chapter.

Encoding of Advertising Information


In addition, to classifying consumer memory into short-term or working memory and long-term memory, researchers have invoked the concept of sensory memory which is charged with the task of forming the interface between a human brain and the environment in which the being operates. The rich array of stimuli that occur in various mediums (i.e., visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and taste) are continuously sampled by the five senses, and processed further if more attention is warranted. Thus, one of the critical factors that determines whether advertising information is afforded further processing upon impinging a consumer’s senses is the attention that the consumer decides to pay to the advertisement.

The pivotal role played by consumer attention in determining advertising effects has been captured in models of advertising effects, e.g., Greenwald and Leavitt (1984) who develop a framework to outline four major levels of audience involvement and their implications for advertising. From lowest to highest, the four proposed levels are: pre-attention, focal attention, comprehension, and elaboration. At the pre-attentional level, little capacity is used, and only feature representations are sensed and processed. At the focal attention level, moderate capacity levels are required, and category representations are formed (i.e., object, word, or name) using sensory content of the message. At the comprehension level, a propositional representation of the message is formed by using a syntactic analysis. Finally, the elaboration level requires the most capacity to link the propositional codes to existing conceptual knowledge. As the levels of audience involvement increase, the framework presumes that more attentional capacity to the message source is required, and the effects of processing (i.e., cognitive and attitudinal) are more durable. The authors assume serial processing, such that processing occurs at a higher level only after consumers have processed at the levels below that level. A principle of higher-level dominance is also assumed, suggesting that higher level processing effects are dominant to lower level processing effects. In general, consumer researchers accept the notion that for advertising to achieve its intended objectives, a consumer has to pay attention to the information being presented in the ad. Thus, methods like eye-tracking are being utilized to measure consumers’ attention to advertisements. An exception to this basic premise is the recent research on unconscious processing effects (e.g., Janiszewski, 1990; Shapiro, 1999), which will be discussed later in the chapter.

Thus, for information that is presented in the ad to be encoded into memory, a consumer has to pay attention to the information. Factors that affect attention are numerous, and have been studied to a great depth. In general, attention literature proposes that when something is distinctive, it receives greater attention (e.g., Wallace, 1965). For example, bold colours, loud noises, unique smells and such are expected to draw attention because they stand out and pique consumer curiosity. Similarly, something that is unexpected receives greater attention (e.g., Houston et al., 1987). Heckler and Childers (1992) define expectancy as “the degree to which an item or piece of information falls into some predetermined pattern or structure evoked by the theme,” (p. 477). The authors manipulated expectancy in the pictorial versus the verbal components of a set of advertisements, and they found that pictorial information was better recalled and recognized if it was unexpected versus expected. This issue is important because it shows that consumers carry with them some expectations when they encounter any situation. These expectations are based on prior experiences, knowledge, and goals of the consumer (e.g., Huffman and Houston, 1993). For example, Hunt et al. (1992) showed that when an advertising message contained information incongruent with a person’s general knowledge structure about a domain (i.e., schema), processing of the entire message was enhanced. Thus, unexpected information not only enhances the memorability of the schema-incongruent information, but to some degree it also enhances recall of the schema-congruent information contained in the message, relative to a message that contains only schema-congruent information. Thus, consumer attention can be gained either through stimulus variables, or by violating their expectations of the information (see Chapter 2.5 for a more detailed treatise on information processing).

Preconscious Processing

Interestingly, some recent research has shown that overt attention to information is not a necessary precondition for advertising to affect consumer behavior. Janiszewski (1990) showed that information that occurs outside of normal focal vision gets processed at a preconscious level and has reliable effects on brand choice. Shapiro (1999) showed that preconscious processing of advertisements leads to processing fluency affects (i.e., facilitating decisions when the same stimuli reappear in the decision-making context) and impacts consideration set formation. Consistent with perceptual fluency, the author found that under incidental ad exposure an ad that depicts a product with perceptual features (i.e., novel shape) that match the shape of a product under consideration, will increase the likelihood that the product under consideration will be included in the consideration set. Consistent with the notion of conceptual fluency, the author found that under incidental ad exposure an ad that depicts a product in a given context facilitates the activation of the product schema in memory, resulting in an increased likelihood that the product under consideration will be included in the consideration set, regardless of whether the perceptual features of the product under consideration match the perceptual features of the advertised product. More recently, Lee and Labroo (2004) also showed that preconscious stimuli are registered in memory and lead to processing fluency effects. Specifically, they found that conceptual fluency, resulting from an ad showing a product in a predictive context (i.e., an ad for beer with a picture showing consumers drinking beer in a bar) or an ad showing a presentation of a related construct (i.e., an ad for mayonnaise when the target product is ketchup), leads to enhanced evaluations of a target brand. Thus, while attention plays a major role in long-term encoding and storage of advertising information, one cannot assume that information that is not overtly attended to has no effect on consumer decision-making (see Chapter 2.2 for more information on low-attention learning).


A second important variable that affects the type of encoding of a stimulus is the quality and quantity of processing that the stimulus receives (e.g., Craik and Lockhart, 1972). When consumers pay superficial attention to an advertisement, they may form quick opinions of the advertised product. Neither these quick impressions nor the advertising information are remembered for very long (e.g., Haugtvedt et al., 1994). In order for advertising information to be transferred to long-term memory to be retained for use later, consumers will have to elaborate on the information, making links between the advertising information and other related concepts that are stored in memory. The more such links are established, the greater is the likelihood that the information will be remembered (e.g., Anderson and Reder, 1979; Meyers-Levy, 1989).

Advertisers have recognized the positive effects of elaboration on learning of information and use several techniques to enhance audience elaboration of advertisements (see Chapter 2.1 for more information on the effects of elaboration). Some of the techniques that have been shown to affect elaboration include the choice of programming and media (e.g., Singh and Cole, 1993), careful targeting of audiences to reach those that have intrinsic interest in the product category (e.g., Brinol et al., 2004), and employing copy writing techniques that enhance elaboration (e.g., self-referencing—Burnkrant and Unnava, 1995; imagery—MacInnis and Price, 1987; use of pictures—Childers and Houston, 1984). For example, Childers et al. (1986) showed that when consumers are presented with ads that contain a pictorial and a verbal component, each with unique information, they are able to recall and recognize more information conveyed in the picture than information conveyed in the verbal copy due to the enhanced elaboration of this component.

The effects of elaboration go beyond superior memory, as discussed in Chapter 2.1. When advertising information undergoes greater elaboration, the attitudes that are formed based on that information are more memorable, more accessible, and held with greater confidence. Such “strength” in the attitude is positively related to how predictive it is of subsequent behaviour.

Storage of Advertising Information

What happens to the information that consumers glean from an advertisement? While consumers may store information about the advertisement and the brand information contained within the advertisement, we focus on memory for brand information in this section given its relative importance to marketers. Memory researchers are generally comfortable with the idea that brands and attributes (i.e., brand knowledge) are represented in the form of a hierarchical network of nodes and relationships between those nodes. For example, all toothpaste brands might be coded as nodes at a certain level of organization in memory. The attributes of various toothpaste brands, which also are represented as nodes, will be linked with the brand name nodes such that the properties of each brand, and the relationships and shared attributes between various brands, are efficiently represented in memory (e.g., Nedungadi, 1990).

When a consumer is presented information about a brand, and it gets processed to a sufficient depth, that information is integrated into the existing network of nodes and links in memory (e.g., Mandler, 1967). The nature of representation of information has been the subject of research both in consumer behaviour and cognitive psychology literatures.

It is generally accepted that concepts in memory are stored as categories (Rosch, 1975; Loken and Ward, 1990). These categories occur at various levels—subordinate, basic, and superordinate. Thus, oral care products (e.g., toothpaste, toothbrushes, whitening strips, mouthwashes) might be represented as a superordinate category, while toothpaste brands might be represented as a basic category. The various brands that cater to different segments might form the subordinate categories (e.g., children’s toothpaste, smokers’ toothpaste, toothpaste with whitening properties).

The concept of categorization has two important implications for advertisers. First, it has been shown that consumers are likely to quickly categorize information that is presented to them (e.g., Meyers-Levy and Tybout, 1989). This categorization, in turn, sets up expectations which guide information processing. Advertisements that fit a consumer’s expectations of a category member are processed superficially, and the brand information is quickly integrated into existing category knowledge (e.g., Boush and Loken, 1991). When advertising information violates a consumer’s expectations of a category member, then the advertising receives greater scrutiny (e.g., Meyers-Levy and Tybout, 1989; Sujan and Bettman, 1989). Thus, if the objective of an advertiser is to quickly reinforce the notion that its brand belongs in a certain category, the ad information shouldbepresentedinamanner that facilitates consumer in ferencing. On the other hand, if an advertiser was interested in consumers representing its brand separately from existing categories, then the information about its brand should be presented accordingly (e.g., Sujan and Bettman, 1989).

Another important effect of categorization has recently been discussed in consumer research. With an explosion in products that appear to combine product features from different categories (e.g., cell phones and organizers, computers and entertainment systems), marketers should be sensitive to how their product is categorized by consumers. It has been shown that how a complex product is initially categorized has a significant effect on how consumers encode it, and evaluate it (e.g., Moreauetal., 2001; Rajagopal and Burnkrant, 2006). For example, Moreau et al. (2001) showed that when consumers were exposed to a digital camera, which was a relatively new product for most people at the time, exposing consumers to ads for similar products (i.e., film camera and scanner) prior to exposure to the new product influenced categorization of the digital camera. Specifically, presenting an ad for a film camera prior to an ad for a scanner led to more consumers saying the digital camera was like a camera than a scanner.

Information storage has also been studied in the form of schemas and scripts in consumer memory. Schemas and scripts are variations of how knowledge is expected to be represented in memory. They have also been shown to facilitate encoding, storage, and retrieval of information from memory (e.g., Smith and Houston, 1985).

Retrieval of Advertising Information

Retrieval of Information from LTM versus STM

Once information contained in an advertisement has been encoded in memory, consumers must be able to access the stored information at the appropriate time, a process known as retrieval (Ashcraft, 2002). Researchers have used a variety of tasks to examine retrieval of information from both short-term memory and long-term memory, such as free recall. In free recall subjects are provided with a set of information that they may recall in any order, regardless of the order of presentation (Ashcraft, 2002). Free recall findings have consistently shown that subjects have higher accuracy on information presented early and at the end of a to-be-remembered list of information (Crowder, 1976; Ashcraft, 2002), suggesting that consumers will be able to more easily retrieve information presented at the beginning and end of an advertisement. Better memory for items that are presented early in a list of information is known as a primacy effect. Better memory for items occurring in the final positions of a list of information is known as a recency effect. Past research generally supports the rehearsal explanation for why primacy and recency effects occur (e.g., Craik, 1968; Glanzer and Cunitz, 1966; Raymond, 1969; Rundus and Atkinson, 1970). Specifically, the first items in an advertisement are expected to receive the most rehearsals, which increases the probability that these items will be recalled. As the amount of rehearsal time devoted to early items in an advertisement increases, the likelihood that these initial items will be transferred into LTM increases, making them available for later recall (e.g., Ashcraft, 2002; Crowder, 1976). Recency effects depend on rehearsal in a different manner. Recall performance of the final items in an advertisement is dependent on consumers’ ability to retain these items in STM through rehearsal. Once respondents stop rehearsing information in STM, then this information is lost, unless it has been transferred to LTM. When prompted for recall, respondents will recall the most available information first, which is the information that is easily accessible in STM, resulting in enhanced recency effects. If respondents are not able to rehearse items long enough to maintain them in STM until prompted for recall, then recency effects will diminish (e.g., Ashcraft, 2002; Crowder, 1976). As a result, increasing the amount of time between a consumer’s exposure to an advertisement and the purchase situation is expected to decrease the amount of information recalled from the end of an ad.

Research has not only found that the temporal location of information contained in a single advertisement is important in determining the impact of this information on subsequent decisions (e.g., Baumgartneretal., 1997), but more recent research has suggested that the location of an advertisement within a set of advertisements may also determine how easily the information contained in a specific ad will be retrieved (Terry, 2005). Specifically, Terry (2005) finds evidence that consumers exhibit better memory for information contained in television advertisements presented at the beginning and end of a set of advertisements, consistent with primacy and recency effects.

Repetition and Spacing Effects

Additional research has demonstrated the importance of appropriately spacing repeated occurrences of an advertisement in retrieval of advertising information (e.g., Janiszewski et al., 2003). Past research provides evidence that the probability of retrieving information from an advertisement increases by utilizing a distributed presentation schedule rather than a massed presentation schedule (Bahrick, 1979; Janiszewski et al., 2003). The retrieval benefits achieved by spacing occurrences of a repeated advertisement are affected by numerous variables, such as the number of intervening advertisements between the occurrences, the use of words versus pictures in an ad, the complexity of an ad, and the meaningfulness and familiarity of an ad (see Janiszewski et al., 2003 for a review). From their meta-analysis Janiszewski et al. (2003) suggest that the best advertising repetition strategy may involve one presentation of incidental processing and one presentation of intentional processing because their results are most consistent with the retrieval and reconstruction explanations for spacing effects (see Chapter 5.4 for more information on media scheduling). Retrieval is the idea that the second presentation cues the first presentation, and if they are spaced then the second presentation forces you to retrieve the first presentation from LTM instead of working memory, which facilitates recall. Reconstruction is the idea that spacing forces someone to reconstruct the first presentation upon exposure to the second presentation, which facilitates later recall. If the two presentations occur in close proximity, then the first presentation is still accessible at the second presentation, making reconstruction unnecessary. Encoding variability, the previously supported explanation for spacing effects (e.g., Crowder, 1976), received moderate support as an explanation in the meta-analysis but not as much as retrieval or reconstruction. Encoding variability is the idea that spacing the repetitions allows for more cue-target (i.e., contextual) associations, enhancing overall recall.


While repeating an advertisement has been shown to increase retrieval ease of information contained within the ad, presenting an advertisement that is similar to other advertisements has been shown to reduce accessibility of ad information stored in long-term memory (e.g., Burke and Srull, 1988; Kumar and Krishnan, 2004). The inhibition of target information by other information has been labeled interference. Retrieval of advertising information may be inhibited by the learning of additional information post hoc, a phenomenon known as retroactive interference (Bower, 1978; Underwood, 1945), and retrieval of advertising information may be inhibited by previously learned information, a phenomenon termed proactive interference (Whitely, 1927; Whitely and Blankenship, 1936; Postman and Hasher, 1972). An advertisement may be subject to interference effects if consumers view that advertisement in conjunction with an advertisement from a different brand in the same product class (e.g., Burke and Srull, 1988; Keller, 1991). Thus, consumers may not be capable of retrieving information about a particular ad because information from this ad is inhibited by a competitive ad, a phenomenon known as competitive interference. More recent research has suggested that interference may also occur if advertisements for two different brands in two different product classes utilize similar pictures in their advertisements, a phenomenon known as contextual interference (e.g., Kumar, 2000; Kumar and Krishnan, 2004). Contextual interference may occur for two brands that are not in the same product class. Kumar (2000) demonstrated that similar pictures for two unfamiliar brands may inhibit memory for the brand name, as well as the claims made in the ad. Thus, executions have been shown to cause interference. The inhibitory effects of other similar ads on information from a target ad have been demonstrated for both familiar and unfamiliar brands (Kumar and Krishnan, 2004). Thus, the similarity of advertisements has proven to be a critical factor in assessing how much of an impact an ad will have on a subsequent decision.

Researchers have attempted to uncover underlying mechanisms responsible for interference effects. Interference does not occur because advertising information is unlearned or forgotten; interference occurs because some other information is inhibiting retrieval of stimulus information (i.e., Ashcraft, 2002). Specifically, interference occurs “not just because there have been prior trials, but because these prior trials share some characteristics of the current trial” (Crowder, 1976: 203), suggesting that to enhance the probability that a consumer will retrieve information from an ad, advertisers should attempt to differentiate their ads from competitors’ ads and those ads that may be viewed in the same context.

Encoding Specificity and the Importance of Cues

Cues have been shown to play a critical role in the retrieval of advertising information from long-term memory at the purchase situation. Specifically, effective external retrieval cues available at the purchase situation allow for increased accessibility to advertising information (e.g., Ashcraft, 2002). For example, Keller (1987) found that introducing advertising retrieval cues on product packaging (i.e., ad headline and photo) enhances recall of brand claims and evaluative reactions to the ad, and it reduces interference effects. Several brands have utilized the presence of cues in the marketplace to enhance retrieval of ad information. For example, Life cereal’s “Mikey” campaign was supported by providing a picture of “Mikey” on the cereal box to facilitate ease of retrieval of information contained in the advertisements when consumers were shopping for cereal at the grocery store (Keller, 1987).

If effective cues facilitate enhanced memory for ad information, then what determines whether a retrieval cue will be effective? According to Tulving and Thomson (1973), “what is stored is determined by what is perceived and how it is encoded, and what is stored determines what retrieval cues are effective in providing access to what is stored.” Therefore, recall is impacted by the relationship between the way in which information is encoded and the cues utilized to retrieval information from memory. Specifically, information is more accessible if the way in which information is encoded (i.e., contextual factors) matches the retrieval cues used at recall, a phenomenon termed encoding specificity. Encoding specificity proposes that the picture of “Mikey” was an effective cue for consumers to access advertising information because they encoded information from the Life cereal ads with a picture of “Mikey.” Therefore, the encoding contextual cue (i.e., picture of “Mikey”) matched the retrieval cue (i.e., packaging with picture of “Mikey”) increasing accessibility of the Life ad information.

Encoding specificity has also shown to have important implications for the choice of advertising execution (e.g., Unnava and Burnkrant, 1991; Costley et al., 1997). Unnava and Burnkrant (1991) showed that varying the executions of a brand of shampoo (i.e., different contexts for print ads) resulted in higher recall of the ad message and the advertised brand name than if the same ad was presented the same number of exposures. Thus, using multiple ad executions versus one ad execution allows consumers to encode the information using different contextual cues, resulting in a higher probability that the cues available at retrieval would match one of the cues available at encoding. Costley et al. (1997) further showed that providing retrieval in the same modality as the initial message enhances recall of the message (“modality match hypothesis”). Therefore, recall of advertising information is enhanced when the information is both presented and cued in a visual format or presented and cued in an audio format. Thus, cues for advertising information that are presented in a visual format, such as on the packaging, will be more effective if the initial information is similarly encoded in a visual format (i.e., print ad). Overall, encoding specificity implies the importance of maintaining clarity and consistency across marketing communications.

While effective retrieval cues are shown to enhance consumers’ memory for advertising information, some evidence has suggested that cues may actually inhibit memory in some cases (e.g., Forehand and Keller, 1996). Forehand and Keller (1996) showed that on an initial ad recall attempt, the presence of retrieval cues enhances memory for the ad. However, consumers that receive retrieval cues during initial recall attempts demonstrate a significant decrease in performance on subsequent recall attempts even if subsequent attempts at retrieval also provide cues. The authors suggest that this occurs because initial retrieval is made easier by the presence of cues, requiring less effort at the retrieval task. Thus, subsequent retrieval attempts are hindered because the retrieval route does not receive sufficient reinforcement at initial retrieval attempts. This assertion is supported by the finding that subjects that do not receive retrieval cues during initial recall attempts do not demonstrate a significant drop in recall performance at subsequent recall attempts.


Another critical factor that impacts retrieval of advertising information is affect (i.e., mood, stimulus valence, and emotional intensity). Evidence for state dependence and mood congruence is prevalent in this stream of literature. State dependence is the idea that remembering information in a given mood is partially dependent on what was learned previously in that mood (Blaney, 1986; Bower, 1981). The findings from this area of research suggest that the probability of retrieving information from an advertisement will increase if consumers are exposed to an ad and attempt to make a subsequent decision related to the ad while in the same mood. Mood congruence is the idea that information is more likely to be stored and/or recalled when the valence of the information to be stored or recalled is consistent with a person’s mood at that time (Blaney, 1986; Bower, 1981). Therefore, the relationship between mood at encoding and recall and the relationship between mood and valence are important in predicting the outcome of a recall task. Thus, consumers may be more likely to recall positive information from an ad when they are in a more positive mood (see Chapter 2.4 for more information on the role of affect emotions in advertising).

More recent research has demonstrated that affect associated with an advertisement can be cued (e.g., Stayman and Batra, 1991). Stayman and Batra (1991) exposed consumers to a television advertisement embedded in a program that yielded similar overall attitudes but either had an affective execution (i.e., likeable music) or an argument execution (i.e., strong arguments). When they were later primed with the brand name, they were faster at retrieving the affect if they were exposed to the affective versus the argument execution ad. Also, the authors showed that positive affect that is experienced upon initial exposure to an advertisement is more likely to be experienced again when brand name is used as a retrieval cue than if a different brand is used as a retrieval cue or positive affect is not experienced upon initial exposure to the ad.

Finally, the emotional intensity of an advertisement has also been shown to have an important influence on retrieval (i.e., Bower, 1981; Baumgartner et al., 1997). In particular, consumers better recall highly emotional ads or emotionally intense components of ads. For example, Ambler and Burne (1999) showed that subjects had better recall and recognition for advertisements that were highly emotional versus cognitive. Thus, emotional ads and ad components have a larger impact on subsequent purchase decisions because of their enhanced accessibility relative to other advertising information.

Reconstructive Memory

Several factors, such as interference and retrieval cues, have been shown to impact retrieval of information from LTM, but more recent research demonstrates that even if recall from LTM is possible, there is no guarantee that information will be recalled correctly. Reconstructive memory is a new view of memory that looks at what information is remembered rather than just how much information is accurately remembered (Koriat et al., 2000; Schacter et al., 1998). In this view, “information is not simply deposited into a memory store, but is assimilated and integrated into cognitive structures and later recreated from those structures,” (Koriat et al., 2000: 487). Thus, as a result of the constructive processes required at retrieval, memory for information may not always be accurate (Schacter et al., 1998).

In support of this reconstructive view of memory, consumer researchers have demonstrated that advertising can alter consumers’ memory for pre-exposure experiences and beliefs (e.g., Braun, 1999; Braun-La Tour and Zaltman, 2006) and consumers’ memory for post-exposure experiences (e.g., Braun-La Tour and La Tour, 2005). Specifically, advertising is shown to unconsciously skew beliefs in the direction of the advertising message (Braun-La Tour and Zaltman, 2006). Additional research has even indicated that exposure to an advertisement may substitute for experience as a result of reconstructive memory processes, e.g., Rajagopal and Montgomery (2006) who showed that an ad containing an imagery-laden description of a product experience results in attitudes that are as strong as those formed from actual experience and are as equally capable of predicting future behavior. Despite the impact of reconstructive processes, consumers overwhelmingly believe that advertising does not have an impact relative to their past experience (Braun-La Tour and La Tour, 2005).

Reconstructive processes in memory may also impact consumers’ memory for competitive advertisements. Braun-La Tour and La Tour (2004) showed that if a strong brand schema is created through many years of exposure to an existing advertising campaign for a brand (i.e., Snoopy and Charlie Brown for Metlife), then exposure to an ad for another company that has recently employed a similar message strategy (i.e., Hallmark using the Charlie Brown gang) will result in source confusion. Thus, the established brand that originally employed the message strategy will benefit from the other ad in that consumers will be more likely to believe that they saw the company’s ad when they had not.

Neuroscience of Advertising Effects

Recent research using positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have allowed marketers to examine the neuroscience underlying consumers’ memory for advertisements. The brain consists of an extensive neural network that extends over several lobes, and the PET and the fMRI examine changes in blood flow in the brain to examine where neural activity is occurring (Gabrieli, 1998). Each of the neurons that unites to form the brain is connected to another neuron via the synapse (Ambler et al., 2000). When consumers learn new information via advertising, new neurons or synapses can be created, and when consumers are exposed to previously learned advertising information, old synapses can be reactivated (Ambler et al., 2000). Thus, neural activation occurs by impacting the connection between neurons, or by creating new neurons.

When consumers consciously encode advertising information, research has shown that they exhibit activation in the medial temporal region and the diencephalic region of the brain, particularly in the hippocampus (e.g., Gabrieli, 1998; Schacter et al., 1998; Squire et al., 1993). When an advertisement is encoded in memory, the hippocampus assigns an index to the consumers’ memory for the ad. Similar advertising information and encoding episodes may have similar or overlapping neuronal representations in the hippocampus, so memory for a particular piece of information or exposure to a particular ad is dependent upon the extent to which the hippocampus is able to assign a unique (i.e., non-overlapping) representation to that particular episode or piece of information, a process known as pattern separation (e.g., Schacter et al., 1998).

In addition to being responsible for encoding of an episode, the medial temporal region is also partially responsible for the retrieval of an episode. Reconstruction of an advertising exposure episode involves recreating that past episode by linking features together. When a consumer attempts to retrieve information pertaining to a particular advertisement, cues activate the index in the hippocampus, activating all of the features of that ad exposure experience. The “retrieval cues need to be specific enough to activate only a single episode,” (Schacter et al., 1998: 312). Otherwise, errors, such as those evident in our review of Reconstructive Memory, may occur. Also, if pattern separation is not successful, consumers may be able to retrieve the gist of the episode (i.e., similar information between episodes), but they may not be able to retrieve specific information about an episode (Schacter et al., 1998; Koriat et al., 2000).

The various features of the ad and the experience are subsequently consolidated into a unified representation of the episode in the neocortex (Schacter et al., 1998; Koriat et al., 2000). “Consolidation is a storage process by which memories become more stable over time,” (Phelps, 2006: 34). Once consolidation of the episode has occurred, the hippocampus no longer plays a role in retrieval. Thus, evidence from neuroscience suggests that the hippocampus is responsible for STM for advertising information, while the neocortex is responsible for long-term memory for advertising information (Ambler et al., 2000).

While evidence shows that advertising information seems to been coded and retrieved through activation of the medial temporal region and the neocortex, memory for emotionally arousing advertising information corresponds to activation of the amygdala and the ventro-medial frontal lobes (VMFL) (Gabrieli, 1998; Ambler et al., 2000; Phelps, 2006). For example, Ambler and Burne (1999) showed that recall and recognition were greater for the high-affect versus low-affect ads. However, giving subjects & beta;-blockers reduced the recall and recognition differences in the high versus low affective ads, demonstrating support for the role of the amygdala in memory for emotional advertisements. The amygdala can also affect encoding of emotional stimuli by focusing attention to the emotional details of a stimulus (Phelps, 2006). Arousal resulting from emotional stimuli, such as ads, can also impact the storage process. Specifically, arousal enhances the consolidation of information from the stimuli in the hippocampus, resulting in enhanced memory for the information (Phelps, 2006).

Evidence from cognitive neuroscience suggests that unconscious processing of ads (i.e., processing fluency) may not activate regions of the brain in the same manner as conscious processing of ads. Specifically, evidence has shown that the neocortex is responsible for preconscious memory processes, such as perceptual and conceptual fluency. However, perceptual and conceptual fluency activate slightly different regions. While conceptual fluency results in activations of the amodal language areas, perceptual fluency results in activation of modality-specific cortical regions (Gabrieli, 1998). Preconscious memory processes depend on the activation of multiple brain regions that are outside of the medial temporal lobe and the diencephalon (Squire et al., 1993).

Principles of neuroscience, as applied to advertising studies, are mostly seen in testing of advertising effects (e.g., Pieters and Wedel 2007, Chapter 4.1). Instead of focusing on presumed cognitive or affective mechanisms, researchers are now able to link physiological changes in people after exposure to advertising to their subsequent opinions and behaviours. In one recent paper, Raju and Unnava (2006) show that highly committed consumers are aroused when their preferred brand is criticized, and arousal was measured using skin conductance.


In this chapter, we explored the role of memory in advertising effectiveness. Specifically, we examined the way in which consumers encode information contained in an advertisement, store this information, and retrieve this information to utilize in a subsequent consumption decision, and we explored the factors that impact each of these stages of the memory process. Additionally, we examined the role of neural activation in the memory for advertisements.

Our discussion of memory research has provided some insight into the major variables affecting the encoding and storage stages of the memory process. In particular, we have shown that a consumer must pay attention to an advertisement in order for information from the advertisement to be encoded in memory. An exclusion to this rule involves preconscious processing, such as processing fluency effects. Brand choice and consideration set decisions may be facilitated if the same stimuli reappear in the decision-making context. Elaboration is another variable shown to impact encoding of advertising information. Specifically, to retain advertising information for later use, consumers need to make links between the advertising information and other concepts stored in memory. Thus, advertising information that is stored in memory is integrated into anexisting memory network of nodes and links, and concepts in memory are generally stored as categories of various levels.

In addition to examining encoding and storage of advertising information, much of this chapter has been devoted to understanding the factors that influence retrieval of information due to the impact that information retrieval can have on subsequent brand decisions. Memory store is one factor that affects the retrieval of information. LTM facilitates memory for the beginning of an advertisement, while STM facilitates memory for the end of an advertisement. However, information stored in LTM remains fairly intact over time, but STM dissipates with time, affecting the retrieval of information retained in the STM store. The spacing of repeated ads also impacts retrieval of advertising information. In particular, retrieval of advertising information is facilitated by a distributed versus a massed advertising schedule. While repeating an ad may facilitate retrieval, past research has shown that presenting an ad that is similar to another ad may reduce the accessibility of advertising information from LTM through a process known as interference. However, when cues presented at the purchase situation match the cues that consumers utilize at encoding, the accessibility of advertising information increases, overcoming the potentially harmful effects of interference. Affect is another variable that may impact retrieval of advertising information. Consumers remember well the emotionally intense components of an ad. Our examination of affect also suggests that the retrieval of advertising information may be enhanced if a consumer’s mood at encoding and retrieval match, or if the valence of the advertising information matches a consumer’s mood at retrieval. Finally, retrieval may be impacted by reconstructive memory, the idea that consumers may not always retrieve accurate memories. Instead, the information retrieved from memory may be altered by a consumer’s schema or additional information a consumer obtained from another information source.

This chapter also explored the physiological changes that occur in consumers upon exposure to stimuli, such as advertisements, which is one of the most recent advancements in memory research. Our review shows that the medial temporal region of the brain plays a major role in the encoding of advertising information and is partially responsible for the retrieval of information. However, the neocortex is responsible for consolidating information from the advertisement into a unified representation of the advertising exposure episode. The neocortex is also responsible for preconscious memory processes, such as perceptual and conceptual fluency. Finally, our review suggests that the amygdala and the ventro-medial frontal lobes are activated by emotionally arousing advertising information.

Memory plays a critical role in how advertising impacts consumption decisions. Our discussion integrated recent research with long-standing findings in this area to provide a comprehensive account of the role of memory in advertising effectiveness. As a result of the advancements made in memory research, such as understanding preconscious processing and new neurological techniques, marketers today have a greater appreciation for memory and its role in advertising effectiveness.