Book Review: Impossible To Ignore by Carmen Simon, PhD
Impossible To Ignore, written by Carmen Simon, offers research-based techniques to make communication more influential and memorable. The book is geared to people making presentations, but everything is directly applicable to anyone working in advertising and marketing. In fact, much of its advice has a corollary in the techniques good advertising people use to create effective ad campaigns.
Carmen Simon, PhD is a cognitive scientist and a founder of Rexi Media, a presentation design and training company. She helps marketers create more influential campaigns and companies create more effective presentations. Here is a short clip of her presentation at Hubspot Inbound 2015:
“People act on what they remember, not on what they forget.” – Carmen Simon
A root beer manufacturer might want their audience to remember something very simple, such as purchasing their root beer for a summer picnic. A telecommunications provider may want their retail staff to remember something more complex, such as upselling tactics on customers purchasing new phones. If you want your audience to act at a future time, they have to remember to do so.
Seems obvious, right? But many people making advertisements and presentations focus most of their energy on attracting attention and then helping the audience understand the information being conveyed. We may agree a message must be remembered, but we don’t necessarily know how to increase the chances it will be remembered.
Throughout the book, Simon offers many insights on how we can make a memorable impact, based on how memory actually works. For instance, Simon explains how humans are very likely to act on a memory when acting on it is associated with a positive reward, or an avoidance of pain. That advice will come as no surprise to advertising professionals, but it’s good to know we have science on our side.
Another insight from the book is the two types of memory: verbatim and gist. Verbatim memory is most accurate but does not last as long as gist memory. An example of verbatim memory is knowing five technical steps to follow for some mandatory work process. Through study and repetition, these steps may become a habit for the employees. But without that, the steps may be soon forgotten.
An example of gist memory would be a non-detailed understanding of a political candidate’s positions on a particular issue. Voters may not be able to explain a detailed plan for restoring a state’s economy. But they will probably remember the gist of the plan, and act positively on it in the voting booth, if the politician has convinced them.
Using the 15 Variables of Influencing Memory
According to Simon, there are 15 variables a communicator can use to influence memory. The variables are as follows: context, cues, distinctiveness, emotion, facts, familiarity, motivation, novelty, quantity of information, relevance, repetition, self-generated content, sensory intensity, social aspects, and surprise. “Impossible To Ignore” explains how these variables can be used in tandem to make communication influential and memorable. All of Simon’s tactics are based on sound scientific research.
Variables can be expressed with words, sights, and sounds. Simon says that many variables should be used in a communication, but does not have to use every variable in every communication. Actually, that would be counterproductive. The trick is knowing which variables to use, how much to use them, and when to use them. This takes both logic and creativity.
The majority of “Impossible To Ignore” offers scientifically-based tips and tactics on using these variables, with plenty of real-world examples. Influencing memory requires a certain percentage of the variables to be expressed intensely. A communicator also needs to make sure the thing they want the audience to remember is
Near the end of “Impossible To Ignore” is a detailed checklist for memorable content, which can be used to evaluate one’s communications. Each variable of influencing memory is listed and described, followed by an “intensity” rating system of 1 to 5. As an advertising creative, I see this checklist as being very useful to the ad-making and presentation-making process.
Application to Advertising
As advertisers, we have to clear several hurdles for an advertising campaign to be effective. It has to be noticed. It has to keep their interest long enough to receive the intended message. Lastly, the message must be remembered so people can act on it at a later date.
Every day, ad professionals associate their client’s brands with rewards and/or punishments. But “Impossible To Ignore” explains how we can optimize that practice to instill memories customers will be moved to act on in the future. Reading through the book, it is also clear that a persuasive and memorable message need not be factual or logical to be effective. In most cases, it is good for advertising to be rooted in truth. But there are many levels of “truth” – and we should not be afraid to pursue a concept that may be slightly unmoored from reality if we think it can still be effective.
“Impossible To Ignore” is a worthwhile read for fellow ad professionals.
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