Imagine two billboards on the side of the freeway. One has a powerful image and a word or two; the other has a paragraph of text. Which of these are you most likely to understand and digest? Which will stick around in your long-term memory? Hint: it’s not the one with the paragraph.
A scientific study in 2011 determined that we Americans took in five times more information than we did in 1986—the equivalent of 174 newspapers a day. And that was 2011. The amount of content we’re subjected to increases with every passing year. With so much information bombarding our brains at any given moment, it’s unsurprising that a billboard with an image and a single word is easiest to grasp.
There’s a good reason for this. In 1956, cognitive psychologist George A. Miller determined that the number of objects the average person can hold in working memory is 7 ± 2, i.e., between five and nine.
Miller’s Law, as it is now known, has substantial value in advertising and marketing, so much so that it’s become a general rule of thumb in the industry. Whether or not you’re aware of the principle, it’s in practice everywhere. There’s a reason why the most successful tag lines—“Just do it,” “A diamond is forever,” “Think small,” “I’m lovin’ it”—are rarely longer than a few words. Short phrases are easier to understand in short-term memory, so they have a better chance of being absorbed into long-term memory.
The challenge for advertisers and marketers, then, is to create something catchy, meaningful, and immediately recognizable so that their target audience will form long-term associations with the brand. Combining a short tagline with a powerful visual component reinforces the brand and commits it firmly into long-term memory.
This challenge of conveying information in an easily consumable way is often a crucial part of building relationships between brands and consumers. So the next time you’re developing a marketing message, consider the consumer’s capacity for short-term memory and information assimilation. “Short and sweet” creative will help pave your way to a more recognizable and memorable brand.
[…] the best way to reach your target audience? You can’t just put ads up all over the roadside (or Facebook) and hope for much positive interaction. You need to think about your ideal customers, […]