Years ago, Rolling Stone was struggling to make its numbers. Readership wasn’t the problem. The issue was media buyers’ perceptions of the magazine. And their perceptions were ruling their decision to not buy the Stone’s advertising space, which was critical to keeping the presses running.

At the time, Fallon McElligott was the publication’s agency of record. In response to the business issue, Fallon’s team created a campaign called “Perception. Reality.” It asked media buyers to rethink their beliefs in order to create a new possibility. It challenged them to stop believing that Rolling Stonehad flighty, vagabond readers with little economic power and to start seeing the reality – that the magazine’s followers were actually loyal, upwardly mobile people with big wallets.

Here is an example from the campaign (source: Fallon, Minneapolis):rollingstone-money (1).jpg

The campaign was a home run. It succeeded by asking the fundamental question, “What if you’re wrong? What if you don’t really know what you think you know?” The campaign helped turn Rolling Stone around. It made the sale before the sales team placed a call and award shows were swept. Everyone went home happy.

While the campaign ran, we didn’t have the full psychological understanding of the real power of the “Perception. Reality.” campaign. Fast-forward 30 years and we now know why this idea was so powerful. Because today, we have Daniel Kahneman’s work in behavioral economics available to us, and his work is shedding light on almost everything we’re doing in the field of marketing and advertising.

Kahneman is The Godfather of System 1 and System 2 thinking. If you’ve read Thinking Fast and Slow, you know him well. If you don’t know him, finish this article and then run out and get his book. It holds a very big idea for everyone reading this.

After reading Kahneman’s tome on behavioral economics, I think that marketers and advertisers need to start putting memory at the front and center of their thinking. Human memory is the most elusive and misunderstood creature on earth. It truly has a life of its own. And while neuroscience observes the physical reaction created by an experience, it is still psychology that explains what really happens inside the brain long after an experience has faded away.

To add more context, the recent TV series, The Brain with Dr. David Eagleman, delved into the way the brain toggles simultaneously between the present and the past. When the human eye takes in new information, there is a part of the brain (the thalamus) that broadcasts back six times the amount of its own information. Think about that. The incoming message is met by 600% pre-existing information. Very simply put, our memories are constantly managing our current experience by filtering any new information through what we have already stored. This gives new meaning to the idea that “perception is reality.” Because, in fact, it is.

By combining the understanding of our memory bank’s highly competitive “on ramp” with Kahneman’s work we can begin to understand why memory is not just A big idea, but rather, THE big idea for marketers and advertisers.

If we start to think of brands as not just experiences, but rather as futurememories, we start to bring a new subtext and vitality to our work. We begin to see the bigger picture of what we’re doing every day to contribute to a brand’s equity. And with that understanding, we start to get our brand’s activities in fighting shape for the real dance we are trying to lead – not in the media – but in memory.

In particular, marketers need to understand the rules to keeping the mind’s eye open to creating new memories. Because the more we learn, the more we realize that most of the brain’s time is spent protecting itself at every turn. It’s tired and it’s locking the doors before it even hears someone knock — especially when it’s a paying advertiser.

Today, this is where our field should focus — how to make critical deposits in the bank of human memory. If we open ourselves up to the idea that being in the business of marketing is about being in the business of memory, we can start to have a more meaningful conversation. And that conversation will generate more authentically engaging messages, making it easier for your brand to become an actual part of who your customer is.

As it turns out, the line between perception and reality doesn’t exist, one just begets the other.

Written by Becarren Schultz.

Featured on MediaPost

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