We’ve become so obsessed with driving immediate metrics that our ability to create memories falls aside. When brand builders create advertising that responds to a think/feel/do prompt, they ignore that brands are memory retrieval devices, and therefore the most critical action for them to prompt is remembering.

Marketers are inherently action-oriented. Maybe it’s a hangover from constantly defending our marketing budgets. Perhaps it’s the immediacy of digital marketing measurement. Possibly it’s personal pride – wanting to make an immediate difference. Regardless, the standard communication framework is consistently to activate an immediate behaviour or make the audience think or feel a specific thing. 

The standard creative briefing system reinforces this. The generally used concept of think/feel/do, sitting at the heart of most briefing templates, implies a causal relationship between our communications and action. The recent emphasis on brand purpose takes this further, asking audiences to feel that a brand shares their beliefs, to conceptualise it as another individual in its own right that they should think and feel about in a particular way.

However, there’s very little evidence to suggest that any of this works. People rarely think or feel anything about a brand. They are a low priority in all our lives versus our partners, children, friends, jobs, challenges and passions, which take up most of our emotional bandwidth. 

Nobody cares about your brand as much as you do, and it is vanity to think there is much you can do about this.

Instead, brand builders should concentrate on amplifying a less immediate verb – remember. 

Evidence from marketing academics like Jenni Romaniuk at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute and others show that brands are shortcuts, small hacks to our memories that make us more likely to remember and favour one above another. Outside the scope of immediate sales activation, our job is to make our brand come to mind when someone thinks about our category.

I doubt anyone will argue with this rationale, but we fail in the craft of brand building. Brand builders with an action mindset try to trigger a specific need or desire, even though our communications are powerless against the varied other factors everyone experiences. Yet they persist, time and time again, to get viewers to think/feel/do something about their brand. Instead, we should align our brands with the ‘ideas’ of these needs and desires, building our brand into the memory structures in their heads. Then when that concept is triggered, our brand immediately comes to mind.

Take UK opticians Specsavers, who have successfully run ‘Should’ve gone to Specsavers’ comms for 20+ years. There is no think or feel here. Yes, the ads might make you laugh, but that’s a means, not the end. Instead, they embed their brand against the concept of failing eyesight and the failure of your existing glasses. Whenever that is your unfortunate circumstance, Specsavers comes quickly to mind.


Or John Lewis’ UK Christmas commercials. Whether you like the monster one or the moon one, they all single-mindedly associate John Lewis with giving a treasured and meaningful gift. Each Christmas, when we’re all struggling to think of something to get a loved one (it’s not just me is it?), *pop* John Lewis comes to mind.


And finally, the supermarket chain Aldi consistently advertises its own-brand products against similar-looking but more expensive competitors. When a shopper wants to decrease the price of their weekly shop but not compromise on quality, what do they think of? Aldi. The example below clearly shows Aldi’s understanding of memory structures, gleefully disrupting BirdsEyes ‘ownership’ of the jolly sea captain and ‘real fish’ with this more authentic, if slightly less cheerful seadog and a significantly lower price.


All these examples are widely lauded as exemplars of the advertising trade. They use emotion, humour, and stories as they should do. Yet the conversation around these ads, and the millions of imitators, stops at how the ads make people feel rather than the memory structures they are building year in, and year out.

So the next time you write a creative brief, don’t dictate what the audience should think or feel. Instead, catalogue the many entry points into your category, Romaniuk’s category entry points or CEPs, and identify those your brand is already associated with or isn’t tightly associated with competitors. Then brief to align your brand with that and focus on building that association for the point in the future when it is triggered – not the day they see the ad.

Don’t ask your audience to think, feel, or do. Ask them to remember.

Cover image source: Sheldrickfalls