You have to feel for England women’s football team striker, Eniola Aluko. If the stresses of playing in the World Cup weren’t enough, she came off at half-time in the first game and high-fived the opposing French team’s manager, mistakenly thinking it was her own coach.
Fortunately, Eniola isn’t alone in forgetting who important people are.
Former Cabinet Minister Jack Straw used to tell the story of a visit to an old people’s home in his constituency. Straw asked an elderly resident if they knew who he was. “I don’t know who you are, dear,” she replied, “but if you ask matron, she’ll tell you”.
Current politicians don’t fare any better. In his first appearance in Parliament after resigning as Labour leader, Ed Miliband joked that his kids told him he used to be famous. A bit harsh, and unfortunately only partly right. When Lord Ashcroft showed the British public photographs of leading politicians in 2013, almost a quarter failed to name Mr Miliband correctly.
It’s a sad truth but none of us seem to know who anyone is any more.
As a example, can anyone remember the name of the winner of X-Factor 2014?
If you’re struggling, you’re in good company. Unfortunately no-one seems to remember or take much of an interest in Ben Haenow these days. The trend line of google searches for Ben tells the story of our era.
Famous for five minutes has become an almost literal truth.
It’s not just politicians or celebrities we can’t identify: it turns out we also don’t know the people who live next door. Research in 2013 by Churchill Insurance revealed that 51% of those with neighbours can’t recall their first names and more than a third wouldn’t even recognise them.
But it’s brands that should be most worried by this trend. It seems that we increasingly struggle to identify brands correctly and often confuse who adverts are on behalf of.
According to psychologist Sue Sherman, the ever more cluttered advertising world is resulting in a rise in false recall of brands. In one experiment, scientists showed respondents a range of UK banks and then asked them to identify the names they’d been shown on a list. 71% incorrectly identified NatWest as being included, even though it wasn’t. The same confusion occurred when they were shown TV adverts. It seems if you run a big advertising campaign, there’s a good chance people won’t even remember it was from you.
Of course, you may think this would be different for the most famous, global brands. So what about the world’s biggest brand, Apple? Apple’s logo is something most of us see multiple times every day on our phones, computers and on advertising. But can we actually remember what it looks like? Researchers at the University of California asked 85 people to draw the exact shape of the logo from memory. You try it. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Only one person got the shape and design right.
It seems we are all suffering from the symptoms of brand amnesia, an inability to remember vital information about why brands are different. This rise of brand confusion means there is an even bigger premium on brands and communications that are built around strong, distinctive and meaningful ideas.
Creating a memorable tagline or message can help. Using identifiable and consistent brand imagery is useful too. But most importantly, brands need to have a clear narrative and story that all their different communications can be built around.
Too often, advertising is based on a generic theme or a single creative idea, which are like fireworks that sparkle and whizz before fizzling out. Instead we need brand narratives that are built like lighthouses, able to cut through the fog of confusion and robust enough to endure the occasional storm.
This sort of illumination would also be welcome in the fog of Westminster politics. It turns out the dark horse in the race to succeed Ed Miliband is a Mr Stewart Lewis. Don’t remember him? That’s not surprising: he’s a fake name that Ipsos Mori included in a poll when asking who the public would like to see as Labour leader. Unfortunately for Labour, Mr Lewis managed to attract 6% of support.
A cue for high-fives all round in Conservative Central Office.