I went out to listen to Daniel Kahneman talk tonight. (If you don't know him he's a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize for Economics and is esentially, the father of behavioral economics. His book, Thinking Fast and Slow, is well worth a read). Most of his talk touched on the themes he's best known for and covers in his book: system 1 thinking (associative and intuituve) vs system 2 thinking (rational, considered and requires effort), framing, anchoring, loss aversion, etc. And all delivered in an easy to grasp, interesting and quite often humorous way. (He may also be one of the most genuinely humble people I've ever seen).
But one thing he talked about struck me as being quite interesting for advertising. Dr Kahneman ran a bunch of experiments to understand the relationship between experience and memory. People were asked to hold their hand in 14 degree C water for a minute. Cold enough to be verging on painful but not too cold to be difficult to do. They were then asked to repat this with their other hand. But at the end of the minute rather than being told to remove their hand some warmer water was added to increase the temperature by a degree or two. After another 30 seconds they were told to remove their hand.
The sample were then asked which experience they felt was more painful. 60 seconds of pain or 90 seconds of discomfort. Almost all chose the longer time period. Dr Kahneman explains this though the idea of the experiencing self and the remembering self. Our memories are not connected directly to experiences: their rough aproximations based on the average of the end of the experence and the most intense moment during the experience. The duration of the experience, for example, seems to have little to do with how we remember something.
At the moment as an industry we have become more and more obsessed with designing for the experiencing self: how can we make the bsst experience possible. We talk about brands as experiences, experience design, etc. We tend to increasingly downplay advertising and scrabble to do a quick bit of service design or UX work. We tend not to talk about memories. And aren't the creation, and depiction, of memories something advertising can be very good at? (even uniquely suited to?)
Maybe it's time to stop thinking solely about making better experiences. Maybe we need to think a little more about designing for the remembering self. Maybe the role of advertising is, in fact, to make better memories.
(Oh, and I know it's been quiet for over a year here. I guess I'll try and write the next thing sooner.)