Ever heard of the Ebbinghaus Effect? Quite likely not. However, Ebbinghaus Curve of Forgetting is an essential tool whenever you are developing integrated marketing strategies or want to create messages with impact.
In order to know how effective your strategy or message will be, you need to understand the implications of the Ebbinghaus Curve of Forgetting.
This 120-year-old law deals with the basic challenge that all marketers face: how can I guarantee that my publications, e-mails, direct mail, and website havethe impact they deserve? The answer is simple: your audience forgets most of what you tell them, sometimes in as little as an hour.
Once you grasp this, you understand why strategic repetition is the key to success.
Integrated marketing communications must constantly reinforce your messages in various media.
Hermann Ebbinghaus received his doctor of philosophy degree in Germany in 1873 at the age of 23. While teaching at the University of Berlin, he pioneered research about human memory. In 1885, he published "Ebbinghaus' Curve of Forgetting" showing that a given piece of learning is forgotten by more than half its audience in one hour. The share of the audience that retains the message is reduced to 33.7 percent after one day, to 27.8 percent after two days, and to 21.1 percent after 31 days. http://www.cpcc.cc.nc.us/academic_learning/images/sskills/Ebbinghaus.doc
Percentages apart, this fundamental research is the basis for two concepts that make marketing communications more focused, efficient and effective.
The first concept is reach and frequency.
In order to create awareness of a brand, you need a combination of reach (who is our target audience) and frequency (how often does your target audience need to be exposed to the same message).
The higher the frequency, the higher the chance that your target audience remembers.
Advertising in the traditional media (radio, television, newspapers, magazines) uses this concept non-stop. To avoid boredom (resulting in tuning out) of the target audience by repeating the exact same message over and over again, marketers opt for a strategic mix of media, all delivering the same message at the same time. A good example is the launch of the Harry Potter movies. http://harrypotter.warnerbros.com/main/homepage/home.html
The movies are supported by a clever mix of books, music, games and all kinds of merchandize, reaching the target audience no matter where.
There are two major restraining factors though: time and budget.
It takes a few weeks (for a known product) or months (for a new product) to stay on the radar of the target audience. Supporting a strategic mix of media requires a substantial budget with no ironclad guarantee of success.
The second concept is integrated messaging.
Once you opt for mix of media (and not for one medium such as magazines), you must make sure that all publications have the same look and feel and send the same message to the target audience. If the publications are perceived as different, the memory stores it as new messages of different products or brands each time. As a result, the marketer starts from scratch which each medium. The most effective campaigns have been the one that “tell a story”, in other words, each publication builds on the recollection of the previous one with some added flavor. The (seasonal) campaigns of Coca-Cola and Budweiser are good examples.
In a world thrive with competition, how can you ensure that your message stand out from the competitors in your audience’s mind?
You have to make sure that your integrated message is remembered as fresh or unique – sometimes even provocative or shocking. Strong stimuli are best remembered.
A company that excelled in that was Benetton, the inventor of “shockvertising”.
Between 1992 and 2000, Benetton shocked the world with billboard showing a dying Aids patient, a newborn baby, a bullet-riddled military uniform, a nun kissing a priest, convicts on death row. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1999/02/99/e-cyclopedia/611979.stm
A recent example is the advertisement of the burger chain Carl’s Jr. To reach its 25-36 year-old male target group, the company launched a provocative ad featuring a scantily dressed Paris Hilton rubbing against a car in a carwash eating a burger http://www.carlsjr.com/home
So how can marketers avoid the Ebbinghaus Effect?
By implementing an integrated marketing and communications campaign:
1) Define your target audience
2) Carefully formulate your message
3) Choose your media communications channel(s)
4) Communicate your message with sufficient frequency
5) Make sure that you integrate the look, feel and messaging of your communications
6) Work with the restrains of time and budget that are imposed on you
7) Use strong stimuli to support the recollection of your message
8) Check the short and long term recollection of your message
Done successfully, a company or brand can be in its audience’s memory for years, even generations. Levi’s and Coca-Cola are perfect examples.
As for Carl’s Jr. burger chain, it remains to be seen who will remember in another year or so…