What makes a phrase memorable?

A recent study has uncovered the ingredients of memorable quotes. Finally, some closure as to why you can remember half the lines from Star Wars, but not your shopping list.

Close enough.

Close enough.

The three rules – as determined by analysing one-liners from IMDB’s Memorable Quotes section – are as follows:

  1. Generic syntax: The more “normal” the syntax of your phrase, the more likely it is to be memorable. “You had me at ‘hello’.” is about as prosaic as it gets – but everyone remembers it.
  2. Lexical novelty: Unexpected words stick in the mind. “You can’t handle the truth!” stands out because it treats an abstract concept like a dangerous animal. And the “hello” in point one isn’t exactly in its natural environment.
  3. Portability: Quotes that are easily transplanted to new situations are often much more memorable than those that aren’t. That means fewer references to specific people, more to generalities.

It works for films. But the authors want to know if these rules can be applied to copywriting and branding as well.

We think: more often than not, yes.

Here’s a list of the top 10 most memorable ad endlines, as listed in the Guardian.

“Good things come to those who wait” – Guinness

“Every little helps” – Tesco

“It does exactly what it says on the tin” – Ronseal

“I’m lovin’ it” – McDonalds

“Wassssuuuuppp?” – Budweiser

“Just do it” – Nike

“It’s good to talk” – BT

“They’re grrrrreat” – Kellogg’s Frosties

“The future’s bright, the future’s orange” – Orange

“Probably the best lager in the world” – Carlsberg

They all follow the rules. With the possible exception of “Wassssuuuuppp?”

Then again, there are exceptions. Bob Leveson made the frozen food brand Sarah Lee famous in the States with the line “Everyone doesn’t like something, but nobody doesn’t like Sarah Lee.” And stretched English to its frozen limit in the process.

Then again, you’re not Bob Leveson. You should probably stick to the rules.