One definition of memory is ‘the ability to remember information, experiences, and people’. Sounds simple, and yet it’s not.

A simple overview is that verbal short term memory stores elements that can be expressed through spoken language and visuo-spatial short term memory stores elements as images and pictures, and both components form part of the working memory process.

Working memory – the ability to store and importantly, manipulate information – comprises of both elements plus a third: the central executive, and working memory is mostly what we use in everyday life.

In our training sessions we do an exercise, we show people a list of the following phrases:

  • fast car
  • wholesome nutrition
  • skinny jeans
  • ethical vision
  • cashew nut
  • innovative quality
  • money in your pocket
  • trusted provenance
  • happy hens
  • central purpose

for around a minute but they don’t know why, and they cannot write them down. Then we break or talk about something else for 5 to 10 minutes.

At this point, we ask them to write down any of the phrases that they can remember.

99 times out of 100 people remember the same few: happy hens, cashew nuts, and fast car.

Occasionally, jeans and money in your pocket are mentioned but almost never does anyone remember wholesome nutrition, ethical vision, innovative quality, trusted provenance and central purpose.

And interestingly, no matter what order you put them in, the results are the same.


Well it’s the difference between concrete and abstract. The items people remember are concrete, and they can picture them (using, their visuo-spatial short-term memory).

The rest are more abstract, and far less easy to picture, so they don’t tend to remember.

Now, as marketing is Attention Interest Desire ACTION (AIDA), if you want to get people to be interested, and desire your products, you first have to get their attention, and then you have to get them to remember you.

The people on the course all know really that we are going to ask them to remember the words. We don’t say it, but they often suspect so they read the words with that in mind.

And they still forget them.

In fact, both short term and working memory only last for a few seconds – clearly shown by the exercise.

The average ad hits you for a few seconds only, and unlike in the exercise, you don’t even have the intention to remember.

Being aware of people’s memory limitations should enable us to be far savvier when it comes to creating content that sticks.

So why is it, if we know we need to be memorable, pretty much all vision statements, mission statements, most websites, and most ads, are all abstract and use abstract words?