A view from Dave Trott: Knowledge Neglect
A view from Dave Trott

Knowledge Neglect

In 1970, two US psychologists, Gregory Kimble and Lawrence Perlmutter, wrote an article for the Psychological Review.

It showed the responses of people to a question, when the first four answers are filled in and the fifth is left blank:

Q1) What tree do acorns come from?

A) Oak.

Q2) What do we call a funny story?

A) Joke.

Q3) What sound does a frog make?

A) Croak.

Q4) What’s another name for a cape?

A) Cloak.

Q5) What’s the white of an egg called?

A) Yolk.

Now, after a few seconds thought, we can see the last answer is wrong.

But the immediate answer given by respondents fell in line with what they thought was expected.

The mind had built up a rhythm and an expected “oke” sound.

This is known as the Yolk Phenomenon.

In 1981, two other US psychologists, Thomas Erikson and Mark Mattson, wrote an article for the Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour.

It concerned the answers a group of respondents gave to the question: “How many animals of each kind did Moses take into the Ark?”

As we might expect, most respondents answered two.

But the correct answer isn’t two, the correct answer is none.

Moses didn’t take any animals into the Ark, Noah did.

This became known as the Moses Illusion and, like the Yolk Phenomenon, is an example of what is known as Knowledge Neglect.

Knowledge Neglect is a phenomenon whereby we actually know the correct answer, but are distracted by something else in the question.

In the case of the Moses Illusion, respondents were distracted by the part of the question: “How many animals?”

They answered that part and ignored the flaw in the question itself.

Which made them give an incorrect answer.

This is what we do in advertising – we answer the trivial part and ignore the vital part.

Common sense says that no advertising can work unless it’s noticed.

Common sense says that no advertising can work unless it’s remembered.

Common sense says no advertising can work unless there’s a reason to act.

But all these are ignored because we have entire departments focused on nothing but brand purpose.

So advertising is run purely to illustrate brand purpose.

Getting noticed is ignored, getting remembered is ignored, a reason to act is ignored.

They are taken for granted, just like the rhyme for yolk or the name Moses.

Advertising is a prime example of Knowledge Neglect.

We are the people who read the publications where these articles are published, yet we behave exactly the same as the people described.

We’ve forgotten the purpose of advertising is: get noticed, get remembered, and acted upon.

Not merely as a container for a banal brand purpose.

Dave Trott is the author of The Power of Ignorance, Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three

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