There is a phenomenon occurring for millions across the world. Its origins stem from an intriguing event in 2013 after the passing of Nelson Mandela. People swore up and down that they remembered him dieing in the 80’s or 90’s. This shared memory among those “affected”, not only seemed to validate its truth, but also fueled the insistence of an orchestrated plot to change history as we know it. Coined by Fiona Broome, it has spread like wildfire, spawning what is now known as “The Mandela Effect”. When a large group of people all remember something differently than what is believed to be real.
What does the Mandela Effect have to do with marketing and branding?
This seemingly impossible, like it was ripped straight out of a science fiction novel sounds bizarre I know… But stay with me here. The examples often used to illustrate this effect are plentiful, most being products/brand names, logos and popular media. If you already know about this, these examples won’t amaze. But for those just hearing about this, buckle up this can be quite shocking. Take a look at these major brands and products.
Is it Jiffy, or Jif peanut butter?
Is it Oscar Meyer, or Oscar Mayer hotdogs?
Fruit Loops, or Froot Loops?
Gordons, or Gortons fish sticks?
JCPenny, or JCPenney?
Not sure?…. do a quick google search, I’ll wait. So how did you do? Did your memory serve you well? If you’re like most(myself included), the memory you had… was in fact, not true. You might be saying to yourself, “That isn’t how I remember them! What the heck is going on?” It’s ok… stay calm. Here are some more, but this time around famous movie lines.
Is it Life is like a box of chocolates, or Life was like a box of chocolates?
Is it Build it and they will come, or Build it and he will come?
Mind not blown yet? How about this one,
Luke.. I am your father
Or was it,
No…. I am your father?
So what’s happening here?
In this post we will be assuming that there are indeed “worldly” explanations for this phenomenon, rooted in faulty memories rather than the paranormal. We will be diving a little into the psychology and inner workings of the human brain so we can help our branding and marketing become more effective.
Now I could attempt to write multiple pages about the study of linguistics, and how we think the brain works, but that would be a pretty boring read wouldn’t it. The crux is this. Some words simply make sense paired together, and others can feel clunky and unnatural. And typical patterns in our written language, characters (ie. hyphens), correct spelling and grammar, are used every minute by our brain to filter input and output. For example, common phrases you have heard all your life (specially details deemed to be true), can and do influence your brains memory storing and recall processes.
Fill in the blank, Life is a ___. If you said beach or highway, that feels correct right? Alternatively, what if I said, Life is a….. Fork? Or, Life is a….. large shaved gorilla waving sparklers at a stop sign! As long as that didn’t sound right to you, your filters are firing on all cylinders.
Input/Output by association
What I’ve just described is the most popular (non sci-fi/paranormal) explanation for the Mandela Effect. Confabulation; “….the replacement of a gap in a person’s memory by a falsification that he or she believes to be true.”
The step by step processes by which the brain makes these errors are not hugely important here. While interesting, an extensive study is overkill for our purposes. Instead, by merely considering some known examples of this effect, it is possible to get a slight advantage when creating content and branding that is more memorable, relevant and most importantly, likely to be received.
Something is missing
Another example that people “affected” by The Mandela Effect involves missing elements. Be it a dash, an s, or even a whole letter, you have to ask yourself, what if we could roll back time and whisper in the ear of the marketers and designers that developed these iconic brands and products? What sort of benefits might these products gain from these changes? You could argue different statistical improvements for sales, brand recognition, adoption rates, etc.
But speaking strictly on the human experience, these changes would simply make more sense. For example, if people see the candy “KitKat” and think it should have a dash, should it have one? If “Frebreeze”, instead of “Frebreze”, looks right to people, then would adding an “e” make a difference? The list goes on and on, so I’ll end this section with one final example. “Chuck E Cheese’s”…….. Hmmm. I don’t know about you, but I take my kids to “Chuck E Cheese”, not this Chuck E Cheese’s place.
Hindsight is 20/20
Admittedly, we can’t predict the future. (which is why I didn’t get into any specific claims above) But you could make a educated guess for whatever you’re working on. Make some basic observations about how people will live with these products, marketing slogans and catchphrases, and how they will be incorporated and actually used in their day to day life.
Advertising and brand personas are all around us from birth to death. It’s in our homes, our entertainment, magazines that help to distract when loved ones are in surgery. Heck….. it’s even on our tighty-whities. Shouldn’t it fall in-line with our pre-existing expectations and norms instead of challenging them? “Cheez It” crackers comes to mind here. Hey can you grab the “Cheez It” from the kitchen while your in there? I could see if there was only one BIG cracker in the box, where everyone sits huttled around it nibbling away. But, anyway…
These brands are a part of us and our reality. They have an opportunity to work with our memory processes and compliment all our predefined notions that we have hard wired over the years.
We get by
Although these errors in grammar like “Cheez It” crackers exist, we still have no difficulty finding, buying, and enjoying them. So why all the fuss? As you know, launching a product successfully can be difficult with a low adoption rate. So anything to help you get an advantage is worthwhile right? One of the major hurdles to overcome this is creating a marketing/brand identity that is above all, relevant to your target market. But how do you frame that message it in a way that is inviting and encourages people to be receptive and learn more? Familiarity…..