That's the question posed---and tentatively answered---by scientists at the University of Iowa as published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They studied a select group of patients with severe amnesia using emotional film clips to investigate whether or not their emotions would persist beyond the memory of the clips they watched.
Sure enough, the emotions lasted longer than the memories. Both positive (happiness) and negative (sadness) emotions were tested, and both yielded similar results. The authors said, "These findings provide direct evidence that a feeling of emotion can endure beyond the conscious recollection for the events that initially triggered the emotion."
The implications for marketers are significant. Many brands focus their efforts on the rational side of the equation, trying to convince people why they should buy their products or services. This study suggests that emotional appeal is just as---if not more---important. In other words, the emotional associations tied to your brand are more lasting than any specific claims you make.
There's a cliche in our business that people buy on emotion and justify with fact. Like many cliches, perhaps it attained that status because it's true. The evidence seems to suggest that's the case.
Steve McKee is president of McKee Wallwork + Company, and author of When Growth Stalls and Power Branding. A marketing strategist for nearly three decades, Steve has been published or quoted in many top news outlets and industry publications, and writes a monthly marketing column for Businessweek.com.