Monday, 4 May 2009

Heuristics, Memory and Nostalgia

What are heuristics? How do they help us make decisions or solve problems? How do they hinder decision making and problem solving? What does the study of heuristics tell us about how our mind works? In psychology, the term "heuristics" is used to describe cognitive shortcuts that our mind takes in order to save time and effort while solving problems and making decisions. Although this rule of thumb technique does not guarantee the solution, it is highly likely to solve the problem. These congnitive shortcuts differ from algorithms as algorithms will definitely solve the problem, although they would consume more time in the process. Thus, heuristics are shortcuts that eliminate the need to consider unlikely possibilities or irrelevant states to reach the final solution. From that perspective, heuristics are useful in making decisions or solving problems. One of the most important heuristic methods was explored by Newell & Simon.

'The human problem solver can be viewed as an information processing system that manipulates structures.' (Newell & Simon 1972).

'Heuristics are the mental rules of thumb that lead to a speedy decision' (Solomon et al, 2006),

Heuristics are 'making quick decisions when there is a lot of choice' (Williams, 2001). When we see advertisements that present too much information to us at one time, we often makie rash, fast judgements. This is without considering all of the relevant information. These mental shortcuts which facilitate decision-making are called heuristics.

There are four possible heuristics that may be processed by the consumer when making a purchase decision. The two most relevant are as follows:

- recognition - these focus mainly on the branding of products, ie the consumer is more likely to buy the one they know;

-minimalist, who are advertising based, use recognition plus one random criteria such as a nice label.

There is a constant need to reinforce a positive brand image, this sits in the sunconscious of the consumer and therefore promotes customer satisfaction during and after a purchase has been made. This in itself helps to create a positive image of that brand/product/service etc. In order to do this effectively, it is imperative that the needs and wants of the consumer are addressed at all times, encouraging the consumer to change a want into a need.

Kotler's Black Box Model of Buyer Behaviour looks at a stimulus-response aspect in which the consumer processes certain stimuli, including the four P's and other major forces and events in their environment.this helps with turning that want to a need. The stimuli experienced by the consumer will enter the black box where they will be turned into a set of responses that will be individual to each consumer based on their past experiences/decision making processes and beliefs.

‘Psychological studies indicate people in positive mood states tend to do a better job of integrating new information than people in negative or neutral mood states.It is also reported that people in positive mood states may tend to engage in heuristic thinking rather than systematic thinking.’ (Eighmey 2008) Eighmey, who has a blog himself, shows an interesting Fiat advert. ‘The spot was part of the 2007 relaunch of the brand positioning this "city car" to the youthful and discerning market segments.’ (Eighmey 2008)

Memory in advertising

Provoking nostalgia is a very effective weapon in advertising as it transports the audience to a ‘happy place’. This of course then has an association with the producat and they will subconsciously like the brand form this associated emotion. This int urn should generate a sale. For example, the follownign marks and spencers advert, appeals to say my parentas generation with the use of twiggy, and of mine, with the use of Myleene klass.


'Nostalgia, a sentimental longing for earlier days when summers were hotter, days were longer, food was tastier and people were friendlier, lends itself to some traditional, long-lasting brands that many consumers remember from childhood' (Wright, 2000).

'When a stimulus is capable of recreating a personal event, even after many years, there often follows a bitter-sweet sentiment known as nostalgia' (Dubois, 2000).

'Nostalgia has been described as a bitter-sweet emotion, where the past is viewed with both sadness and longing' (Solomon, 2000).

As Solomon discussed, nostalgia is a bittersweet emotion and this knowledge, for advertisers, is like kids in a sweet store! They play on it massively. For example, as we saw in the Marks and Spencer’s advert and the Coca Cola one. Now especially, it is a real trend with advertisers replaying old adverts for example Burger King. This is the epitome of playing on nostalgia. The older generation watch it and get transported to a happy time and place and want to visit the shop to ‘relive’ it.
Many 'classic' products appeal to consumers' memories of their youthful days. Advertisers use many references to 'the good old days' in their campaigns, helping to call up memories of distant youth in the hope that these feelings can be translated into the products they are selling today.
After having conducted my experiment, provoking a nostalgic reaction from my uncle by playing him a song form his generation, I discovered how effective music is in provoking this intended nostalgic reaction. It really can transport you back to a certain place where you were happy, or even sad. The other two main ways of provoking this type of reaction is taste and smell, which of course can’t be achieved through and advertising. Stimuli, such as a song or photograph, can provoke nostalgia in the form of an instantaneous reaction in a person's body language whether it is foot tapping, Goosebumps, smiling, getting more animated or speaking louder and faster. It is reactions such as these that the marketer and advertiser aim to recreate for the target audience of a product in order for them generate a sense of relationship and a bond with brand/product and also to get them talking about it too.
The picture below is a mood board of all the memories the song provoked for my uncle. He stared talking about where he was exactly, and the events of the particular night he associated the song with. He sang along and tapped his foot. It was fascinating to watch after having studied it. The song music video is below the mood board. This same song was played at my parents wedding and my mum will sit and tell you all about her reception party whenever she hears the song!


'Memory involves a process of acquiring information and storing it over time so that it will be available when needed. Contemporary approaches to the study of memory employ an information-processing approach. They assume that the mind is in some ways like a computer: data are input, processed and output for later use in revised form' (Solomon, 2006).

It is a known fact that the more familiar the consumer is with a product, the more likely they are to buy it in the future. This is one of the basic fundamentals of marketing where the advertiser aims to build awareness of a product.

Salience/shock advertising is predominantly used in advertising in order to create certain stimuli reaction by the consumer. this makes it far more likely to stand out int heir memory and they are more likely to buy it. it is a great method to use in such a hoghyl competitive market. Examples of salience could be the use of distinct, contrasting packaging or unusual forms of advertising such as the Gorilla advert or the eyebrow advert used to promote Cadbury's Dairy Milk.

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