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The University of Sussex

 15 Aug 2001 

University of Sussex psychologist develops test to predict success of adverts

An experimental psychologist at the University of Sussex has devised a more reliable way to predict an advert's success, by developing a new method that assesses consumers' 'unconscious' memories for adverts.

For his doctoral research, Alastair Goode carried out two studies that measured levels of consumers' conscious and unconscious memory of adverts and any associated changes in the liking of the products they promoted. Both studies showed that subjects preferred the products from ads they had seen before. Notably this increase in product liking was associated with their unconscious memory for the adverts.

"An individual's ability to recall an advert had no effect on product liking," says Mr Goode. "In contrast, the unconscious mental processes that were affected by the advert - the processes an individual could not report - were positively associated with increases in the liking of the products. It appears that our conscious memory conveys facts and information; however, it is our unconscious memory, often referred to as gut feeling or instinct, that is associated with our liking and emotion responses."

Until now, advertisers have relied on ad awareness and recall, using a variety of techniques - shock tactics, catchy straplines and other creative devices - to make their ads stand out from the crowd. "These techniques affect conscious memory and not the unconscious memory, where the increases in product liking appear to be based," argues the Sussex researcher.

In developing this test, an efficient assessment of the likelihood of an advert's success can be obtained, says Mr Goode. "It does not involve any lengthy, complicated evaluations of interview or focus-group scripts. Instead, it returns a straightforward value as to how much an advert has influenced the most important mental processes, hence an advert can be tuned so that it targets these important processes."

The most dramatic example of the effects of unconscious memory is when pictures are presented subliminally to someone. "If they see the same pictures again, they will like them more than others they have not seen, despite the fact that they genuinely believe they haven't seen any of the pictures before," explains Mr Goode.

The Sussex psychologist points out that this technique also uncovers the effect an advert has even if it is not being attended to. "Many people use ad breaks on TV to make a cup of tea or don't deliberately make a point of reading billboards," he says. "Unconscious memory is also at work when we might be concentrating on something else. As a result, although the experience of the advert may be peripheral, it will still be stored in unconscious memory. This newly developed test allows this experience to be accessed and understood."

Assessing unconscious memory may also have wider benefits, according to Mr Goode. "The test provides an effective way to assess a product's market position, by showing consumers' gut feelings about a product." Because of the visual nature of the research, it also has potential implications for Internet advertising.

 Notes for editors 

Alastair Goode can be contacted on 07740 166063.

For further information, please contact Alison Field or Jacqui Bealing, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 877456, email or

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