Ads can alter memory claim scientists
Tuesday September 4, 2001
A group of US scientists has discovered that advertising can alter
people's childhood memories, making them remember events that never
Adults shown a mock advert in which Disney World visitors shake hands
with a Bugs Bunny character became convinced they had done the same as a
But shaking hands with the famous cartoon character could never have
happened because the giant rabbit is a Warner Bros creation and does not
feature in any Disney theme parks.
Another experiment involving shaking hands with Mickey Mouse also
demonstrated the power of an advert to influence memory - although in
this case the character did at least exist in Disney.
The results of the research, which could be hugely significant for the
advertising industry, are being unveiled today at Glasgow University
The researchers, led by Professor Elizabeth Loftus at the University of
Washington in Seattle, said in a summary of their work: "We found that
autobiographically-focused advertising can make events (even impossible
ones) seem more likely to have happened to them as children."
Walt Disney's 25th anniversary of Disney World in Orlando inspired the
research. Disney marked the event with an advertising campaign entitled
"Remember the Magic".
The adverts resembled vintage home movies and featured out-takes of
people swimming, meeting Mickey Mouse, and enjoying the theme park's rides.
The researchers said some marketeers were beginning to recognise that
memories were constructed.
One root beer manufacturer, Stewart's, had discovered that many adults
appeared to remember growing up drinking their product from bottles.
This was impossible since the company only began full-scale distribution
10 years ago. Before that, Stewart's root beer was available only from
However, the bottles were adorned with slogans such as "original", "old
fashioned" and "since 1924", which conjured up images of times gone by.
The researchers' adverts incorporated various Disney images, including
the Magic Kingdom castle, and described a day in the park from a child's
Professor Loftus's team concluded: "In some sense, life is a continual
memory alteration experiment where memories are continually shaped by
new incoming information.
"This brings forth ethical considerations. Is it OK for marketers to
knowingly manipulate consumers' past?
"On one hand, the alteration will occur whether or not that was the
intent of the marketer given the reconstructive nature of recall.
"On the other hand, there are ways in which the marketer can enhance the
likelihood consumer memories will be consistent with their advertising
messages. At the very least, consumers ought to be aware of that power."
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