The Monday Morning Memo: Sight vs. Sound

by Roy H. Williams

Have you ever stopped to consider why congress voted in 1970 to outlaw the use of sound to sell tobacco? No one in America has heard a radio or television ad for tobacco since January 1, 1971, yet most adults born prior to 1960 can still sing, “Winston tastes good, like a...,” though not a single one of us ever intended to learn that melody.

Interestingly, the government has never placed any restrictions on the visual advertising of tobacco. Winston has placed thousands of magazine ads and newspaper ads in all our publications. Tens of thousands of Winston billboards have dotted our land from coast to coast. Colorful Winston signage has been placed at sporting events, and all our convenience stores are plastered with Winston posters and point-of-purchase displays. But all of these things combined have not been enough to overcome the silence. Though Winston’s visual advertising is funded with hundreds of millions of dollars each year, they’ve never been able to compensate for the loss of the semi-hypnotic effects of sound. Winston has learned that it’s difficult to win our hearts when they’ve been denied access to our ears.

Recently, Skoal/Copenhagen withdrew its sponsorship of professional rodeo when the rodeo announcers were informed they could no longer mention tobacco sponsors over the loudspeakers.

We hear even when we aren’t listening. That’s why you could always repeat what the teacher had just said every time she stopped and asked, “Are you listening?” even though you had not been listening. You hear even when you’re fast asleep! How else would you know when there’s a prowler in the house? Sound is intrusive, and the memory of sound is awesome.

Neurologists tell us that what comes through our ears will remain in our minds for nearly five full seconds before it begins to fade. Conversely, that which enters the eyes is gone in less than a second. This is why eyewitnesses can always agree on precisely what they heard, but no one can recall with clarity exactly what it was they saw. By the time an eyewitness realizes the importance of what they’ve seen, the critical second had passed and clear memory of what was seen is gone.

When you memorize a poem, a speech, or a bible verse, it’s not the appearance of the words on the page that you remember; it’s the sound of the words in your mind. When you recall what was read silently, your memory of the words comes from the auditory cortex of your brain. This is because the human brain cannot understand the written word until it has been translated into the spoken word in the mind.

The greatest liar who ever lived was the one who first said, “One picture is worth a thousand words.” Don’t you ever believe it. The ear long remembers what the eye soon forgets.

 

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