What is working memory?


In marketing, we talk about advertising pressure to describe the number of advertising messages to which the brain is exposed daily, which are using working memory. Although studies on this subject give widely varying figures and are not necessarily up to date, it is reasonable to say that on average we receive between 350 and 1200 advertising messages per day. Think of the logos on the sides of soccer fields, the Coca-Cola can carefully positioned in a TV-series or sponsored content on social media.


So advertising can be a form of visual pollution. And with it, the risk that an advertising message, however the result of more or less expensive work of thought and creativity, goes unheard. We, therefore, speak of cannibalization of messages. How many promotional emails do you receive without even opening them? So if you’re doing digital marketing, it’s about standing out, being as relevant as possible so that your message can be understood. So that your message can be heard.  


Did anyone get the message?

Working memory is short-term memory, which gives access to long-term memory. It is the ability to withhold information temporarily so that it is processed by our neural networks, before it is translated to perform a task, such as reasoning or acting. Working memory performs tasks that have a purpose¹. It has the ability to focus on the essentials. Working memory makes it possible to find a quote read several years ago which is relevant and related to an action that we are in the process of carrying out. Advertising acts on this working memory permanently.


Meanwhile, working memory can reach a saturation point. This is especially what happens when we are facing too many choices. Especially in children, working memory quickly becomes saturated. The more choices you have, the more complicated it is. It’s best to explain things step by step, limiting the number of steps. Likewise, you should avoid doing several things at the same time. Multitasking, as stated in lots of resumes, is heresy. The same goes for digital marketing: although there can be a so-called marketing-mix, there’s no need to pollute the listener with inaudible messages, to communicate in order to communicate. Let’s not speak much, but speak well. The performance of the messages addressed depends on it.


To record new information, the brain needs to understand what it is recording. The memory stored in the brain has to make sense. Memories are organized by topic, like in a library, like a tree with different branches and leaves attached to it. There can be several keys to access it: a word, a quote, an image, the author’s name, a subject. And good news, the more relevant entries, the more accessible information becomes. My advice for your digital marketing: be clear, be relevant, do not overload your audience’s working memory and be visually appealing in order to be understood.

¹BRILLANT Martine, Guide du cerveau pour parents éclairés, Actes Sud, 2019, p.115-140.