Home » Impact, Emotion, and Frequency (or How to Get Remembered)

Impact, Emotion, and Frequency (or How to Get Remembered)

Do you remember where you were on January 28, 1986 when the Challenger Space Shuttle blew up? How about September 11, 2001 when you first heard about the World Trade Center buildings? Can you recall what was happening when you got the news about Princess Diana’s death?

The most recent of those events was almost seventeen years ago, yet we remember them like they were yesterday.

In 1986 I was sitting in the back left corner of a lecture hall at the University of Michigan taking a chemistry class when our professor wheeled in a television screen and we watched replay after replay of the shuttle exploding. I’ll never forget it. Interestingly enough, my mom was in the back left corner of that same lecture hall on November 22, 1963 when John F. Kennedy was shot.

Those events are so impactful that they go straight into our long-term memory.

Your advertising isn’t that impactful. 

(Neither are those Super Bowl ads you’re going to be watching this Sunday, but I digress.)

How do we get our ads to be remembered? How do we get our company to be first in the minds of our customers?

First, let’s understand memory. There are two types of memory. You and I call them Short-Term and Long-Term. Neurologists think of them as Electrical and Chemical.


Electrical memory is kind of like the RAM in your computer. It is the short-term memory of everything that has happened to you today. All of your thoughts and feelings, no matter how mundane, stick with you throughout most of the day. You can recall most of it.

Sleep, however, is the great eraser of electrical (short-term) memory. Think of sleep like rebooting your computer. Turn your computer off and the RAM is wiped clean, ready for the next use. Go to sleep and all those mundane thoughts and feelings disappear. The only things you can remember from the previous day are those thoughts and feelings that had an impact.


Chemical memory is more like the hard drive of a computer. This is the stuff you keep in your memory for a while. Unlike a computer, however, your memory is fallible. Things stored in your long-term memory tend to fade over time. I cannot remember the name of the professor who wheeled that television cart into the lecture hall, but I can kinda remember his face. Chemical memory is also not completely accurate. Every time you access your memory of an event you are not actually accessing the original memory, but just the last time you recalled that memory. Think of it like your own personal internal version of the telephone game. Still, it is a lot better than electrical memory.

There are three ways to convert electrical memory into chemical memory.

The first is to have a high impact quotient. Kennedy getting shot, the Challenger Space Shuttle, and 9/11 had major impact on us. You don’t forget things like a car accident, your wedding day, or when your child was born. All have a major impact on your life.

The second is to have a high emotional impact. We are quicker to remember those things that made us feel strong emotions like Love, Anger, Fear, and Gratitude. That is why the advertising that speaks to the heart or makes you laugh tends to stick in your memory a little longer.

These two ways create Declarative Memory, where if asked, you can recall the information (kinda like your old home phone number from when you were a kid.)

The third is to have a high frequency. This is where we, as advertisers, have to truly live. If sleep is the great eraser of the mind, we have to keep pounding away at the brain to get our foot in the door just a little farther each day.

Think of it like a nail being hammered into a board. You put the nail in place and tap it once and it might make a small indentation. Sleep is the great claw hammer that rips the nail out. But if you put that nail back into the same hole and tap it again the next day it sinks a little deeper. Keep placing that nail in the same hole and eventually it will drive it in so tight that the hammer cannot pull it out easily.

The higher the frequency, the more infallible the memory. You keep replacing the original memory with another original memory exactly like it so that the recall is always right on.

If you have enough repetition, the memory is so strong that you don’t have to think to recall it. You know it instantly. This is Procedural Memory (like hitting the brake on the car when you see a deer in the road.)

The amateur practices enough so that he can get it right (Declarative). The professional practices enough so that he can’t do it wrong (Procedural).

Frequency. Repetition. Practice. Call it what you want, but in advertising it is your best friend. It is the golden ticket for getting your ads to be remembered and your company to be thought of first.

Think about that this Sunday when you’re watching the Super Bowl (especially when you’re wondering why you often don’t see those ads any other time of year).

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If the ad isn’t interesting and doesn’t speak to the heart, however, frequency is like the hammer without a nail. You just bludgeon someone into submission. Trust me, that’s not the best way to spend your ad budget.