Some people were asked to read a descriptive printed advertisement describing the taste of popcorn with a fictional name but made by a familiar food brand. Others were asked to taste popcorn labeled with the fictional name. A week later, asked what the fictional popcorn tasted like, those who merely read the advertisement were just as likely to report eating the popcorn as people who actually ate it. N V Montgomery, with Priyali Rajagopal, an author of the study, said:
What we found is that if consumers falsely believe they have experienced this advertised brand, their evaluations of that product are similar to evaluations of products that they actually experienced. That is a fairly unique finding.
The phenomenon of false memories is well known in psychology, and this research extends it to marketing. But when the researchers replaced the well known brand name behind the popcorn with an unknown brand name but kept the same product name and vivid advertisement the effect was less pronounced, so the impression made by the brand name was crucial to the false memory. Michael Nash, a professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee - Knoxville said:
Humans are a lot more inaccurate than we think we are.
Advertisers have known that there are benefits to using vivid ads. I don’t know to what extent they are aware that these ads can impact memory.
Our intent was really just to educate consumers that they need to be vigilant when they’re processing high imagery ads, because these vivid ads can create these false memories of product experience.