The Mandela Effect – and What It Means for Brands

I have always enjoyed writing. Writing has always been a safe outlet for my thoughts and creativity. It was in high school that I found enjoyment in creative writing. During my senior year in 2003, I remember being given an assignment of coming up with our own “Bucket List” of things we wanted to personally accomplish in the future. I even recall titling the assignment “My Personal Bucket List.” While I can sometimes find it challenging to think too far into the future, the assignment is one I remember fondly.

Earlier this week, I was watching TikTok and came across a shocking discovery…While I remember doing a “Bucket List” assignment, according to the video, the term Bucket List actually originated from the screenplay for the 2007 movie, The Bucket List. The term is only 15 years old and originated four years after I wrote my paper. I am not the only one who remembers the term Bucket List being around before it was ever coined, however. …Enter the Mandela Effect.

If you are not familiar with the term, it was first coined in 2009 by Fiona Broome. While at a conference, Broome was talking to her colleagues about how Nelson Mandela passed away in prison in the 1980s. Many people in the group were remembering this tragedy. The only problem…Nelson Mandela didn’t pass away in prison in the 1980s. In fact, he wouldn’t pass away until 2013. While normally misremembering someone’s death wouldn’t be remarkable, what Fiona found was that she wasn’t the only one that had this memory. After starting a website, she discovered there was a large group of people who remember Mandela’s death in the 80s. Not only do they remember him dying, they remember specifics around the event. They can recall things like the news coverage and a speech by Nelson Mandela’s widow.

It turns out that the Mandela memory was only one case of mass false memories. Since then, there have emerged additional mass false memories that people have sworn to exist. It isn’t surprising that people are misremembering things, but what is interesting is that people are misremembering the SAME things in large groups. If you google Mandela Effect, it’s easy to find numerous examples of these false memories. Here is a list from Mental Floss of some of the more popular cases:

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/585887/mandela-effect-examples

Why is it happening?

While it is still being studied, there have been several hypotheses around why the Mandela Effect is happening and what the root cause is. Some people use the Mandela Effect as proof that multiple universes exist and that some information from these universes has jumped into this reality. Others have gone with the explanation that we are living in a simulation and these false memories are a glitch in the matrix.

However, the most logical explanation is likely based on the fragility of our memories. Countless studies have shown that memories are fluid and can even influence experiences that happen years later. Our memories aren’t stagnant but are living and ever-changing. When you combine these shifting memories with the speed and amount of information people come across on a daily basis, it has been theorized that this has destabilized our memories to an even greater extent than in the past. In addition, we now have the social means to share our false memories with groups which can further influence older memories on a greater scale.

Given the amount and speed that information is available and the fluid nature of memories, maybe the perfect storm exists for increased cases of the Mandela Effect. Details that once would have been remembered, like Curious George not having a tail, are now subject to our brain trying to process massive amounts of information. In an effort to cope, our brain begins to change memories to make them easier to remember based on its current understanding.

What does it mean for brands?

While up to this point, the Mandela Effect has largely been towards trivial things, like whether or not Kit Kat is hyphenated, there are some potential brand implications. If we are truly seeing an acceleration in false memories among large groups of people, this means that now more than ever, brands have to deliver a clear message that gets reinforced over time. Being consistent with core brand values and cues can help reinforce the narrative brands are seeking to establish.

In some cases, perhaps the Mandela Effect can be a positive for brands. For instance, consumers swear the brand “Froot Loops” was actually spelled “Fruit Loops” even though we all know Froot Loops is loaded with sugar and doesn’t contain actual fruit! Perhaps there is a subconscious positive halo effect that the Mandela Effect is having in this case.

We know false memories and narratives exist, and my “Bucket List” is just one additional example of one person’s false memories being their personal reality. Understanding these false memories and misconceptions is an area where market research can help brands to understand, change, and reinforce narratives.

Learn more about the Mandela Effect:

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/mandela-effect#features

Author

  • As VP of Client Services and Content, Patrick helps clients identify actionable research opportunities to help drive their business results. He is also the self-appointed Minister of Fun.

    Despite missing half of the decade, Patrick loves all things 80’s. Hair bands, power ballads, MacGyver and Mullets…talk about a Golden Era! Coincidentally, he has a very patient and accommodating wife. Summer is his favorite season…sun’s out, guns out!

    Patrick’s favorite thing about Quester is the people. Some of the smartest people in the industry work here. Their passion for language and research is obvious in every project we do. We’re all one big happy family – some would say we are closer than the Tanner’s from Full House.


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