Unconscious processing of advertising and its effects upon attitude and behaviour (p. 112)
This paper looks at the idea of implicit memory and whether or not it is likely to be involved in the processing of advertising. Given what is known about implicit learning and memory, it is doubtful that even if there was unconscious or implicit processing of advertising, that there would be any effect upon attitude or behaviour. The only unconscious response to advertising likely to have an impact upon attitudes and behaviour is emotion.
Is implicit learning and memory likely to be involved in the processing of advertising, as a number of people have been suggesting over the last few years? The short answer is, no. Only if we include emotion as implicit memory, and more specifically, nondeclarative emotional memory, would the answer be ‘yes.’ In fact, as will be discussed below, nondeclarative emotional memory is likely to play an important role in the processing of advertising. But the idea of implicit learning and memory, as it is usually understood, playing any part, let alone a significant one in the processing of advertising is highly unlikely. While the notion that somehow there is unconscious attention and learning going on that gives advertising a much stronger impact than is generally measured may seem appealing, as we shall argue, the nature of implicit learning and memory militate against it.
2 Implicit memory
Interestingly, the idea of implicit memory is a rather recent notion. The term was introduced in a 1985 article by Graf and Schacter. At its simplest level, implicit memory (or nondeclarative memory) is associated with unconscious learning while explicit memory (or declarative memory) involves conscious learning. It is this idea of ‘unconscious learning’ that has been so seductive to those advocating the role of implicit memory in the processing of advertising. But implicit memory is not only unconscious, it is also a nonintentional form of memory (Kolbe and Whishaw, 2003). As Squire and Kandel (1999) have pointed out, implicit memory typically "involves knowledge that is reflexive rather than reflective in nature" (their emphasis). It involves unconscious changes in behaviour as a result of some previous experience. Not surprising when one considers the major forms of implicit memory.
Nondeclarative or implicit memory includes associative and non-associative learning, along with motor learning (cf. the classification of memory discussed by Milner, Squire, and Kandel, 1998, among others). Non-associative learning such as habituation and sensitization require repeated exposure to a single stimulus, not a likely scenario for processing advertising. Both habituation and sensitization are considered very elementary forms of learning because they do not involve the creation of an association between stimuli, only a change in how one responds to repeated stimulation of a single kind (Eichenbaum, 2002). Associative learning such as classical or operant conditioning is also unlikely to be operating with advertising. As for motor learning, it is hardly appropriate.
Priming, because it results in an unconscious memory formation, may be classified as implicit learning or memory (see Bowers and Marsolek, 2003 for a thorough discussion). In fact, as Whittleson (2003) has remarked, "priming is supposed to be the archetypical example of implicit memory." Priming is generally thought to fall into two broad categories: perceptual and conceptual. The more usual is perceptual, where priming increases the likelihood of being able to identify a stimulus later, or identify it faster, or to complete a perceptual fragment. Conceptual priming is where prior processing of a stimulus meaning facilitates future processing or access to concept meaning in memory.