Your past actions are the best predictor of your future decisions. That's
why data about your buying decisions and demographic is so valuable: it enables
companies to know what and when you'll buy. Marketing has focused on influencing
your future decisions because changing your past actions, or the memory of them,
has seemed impossible. You can't change the past. That's no longer true.
Marketers now have the technology to meddle with your memories. To find out how,
let's first step back to old-school product placement.
Dr Pepper comes
to mind when I hear the word " Spider-Man". In the film, as Peter Parker learns
to use his powers, he spies a can of Dr Pepper across the room and, after a few
tries, gets to enjoy drinking the cold beverage that had been out of reach.
Mass-media product placement of this kind works by association and memory. But
this is a last-century technique. The goods and services famous people consume
will continue to wriggle into our subconscious, but increasingly we live in a
world where there isn't one source of truth. The internet has diversified our
communication channels. Narrowcasting is replacing broadcasting; our friends are
In this new world of narrowcasting, product
placement is about to get uncomfortably personal. This is how it is going to
happen: each of our worlds is the sum of our experiences. Our memories help
define who we are. We document and share that world through our status updates
and photo albums. What we share creates the documentary of our lives. The online
presence of your friends and family -- their e-autobiography -- is becoming your
source of truth about their lives. The value of the trust we place in our
friends and the ease with which our autobiographies can be modified will not go
The goal is digital revisionist history -- products
injected into our memories. Tweaking photos on Flickr and Facebook to change the
drink we are holding to a can of Budweiser, the billboard in the background to
Samsung's, your friend's T-shirt to Abercrombie. It might be Facebook's next
billion-dollar business model. And it might not always be so inane as infecting
your buying habits -- it may include your political views.
psychology has shown that our memories are predictably fallible -- reconstructed
from bare-bone frameworks, not remembered in high resolution. Psychologist
Elizabeth Loftus has proved that eyewitness reports are easily manipulated via
the "misinformation effect": leading questions or misleading information can
change critical details of memories. In studies, Loftus and others found that
after a single session they could implant a detailed false memory into one in
four people. In a recent study at University of California Irvine, published in
Applied Cognitive Psychology, researchers were able to change participants'
understanding of famous events by showing them doctored photos. Memory is easily
As you look back at your photos from a year ago, you get the
subliminal message: "I did have a great time at that party and, yes, I guess I
was drinking Budweiser." Your memory has been hijacked. If you don't consciously
remember or don't know which photos have been tampered with, the heist is
flawless. Even if you do remember, your friends probably won't know any
different. Budweiser has just exploited their trust in you. Next time they go
shopping, that little memory does its brand-affinity magic and changes their
But why would you let anyone manipulate your pictures and
hijack your memory? Perhaps a company might offer to touch up your pictures --
remove spots, make you look thinner -- in exchange for product placement. You
get benefit, companies get value and you'll rarely know which photos have had
what added to them. Your memory, your past, is now monetisable. You can generate
value just from having lived.
Our memories are still pristine, but not
for long. We know that the best predictor of our future decisions is our past
actions. With digital revisionist history, those past actions aren't immutable
and marketers will be writing our personal histories. The question is: how can
we stop it?