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Von Restorff Effect: A Guaranteed Way to Capture Attention

minute read

Quick Definition: The Von Restorff Effect (also called the Isolation Effect) describes how our brain searches for things that are different from their surroundings.

Brand spend millions every year tracking and analyzing what their competition is doing. And it's not always so they can steal their competition's best ideas. They know this surprising marketing truth: When you do the opposite of what your competition is doing, you'll capture more attention. 

Why does this work? It's down to a psychological principle known as the Von Restorff Effect


What is the Von Restorff Effect?

The Von Restorff Effect (also called the Isolation Effect) describes how our brain searches for things that are different from their surroundings. If something stands out from its surroundings and context, we notice and remember it.


How Cadbury's, Coinbase, Starburst, and Liquid Death Use the Von Restorff Effect


1. Cadbury's Chocolate: Gorilla Playing the Drums

Cadbury's Chocolate (UK) understood the type of ads people expected to see from its brand - usually slow motion milk and coca powder transforming into a premium chocolate bar.   

So to capture everyone's attention, they created something totally different from their normal marketing with the now-famous ad that showed a Gorilla playing the drums to Phil Collins' hit "In the Air Tonight." In the UK and Australia, this is one of the best-known and loved commercials ever (although it never aired in the US). 

2. Coinbase: Super Bowl Ad

In 2022, Coinbase showed a simple bouncing QR code for its Super Bowl ad. They subverted category - and Super Bowl ad - conventions to create something undeniably simple but attention-grabbing.

3. Starburst: Berries & Cream

Starburst understood that typical candy ads often leaned towards bright colors, chaotic music, and close-up shots of delicious candy. That's why Starburst created ads that were intentionally bizarre and offbeat to standout and capture attention. 

But even by Starburst standards, their Berries & Cream ads were out of the ordinary. The commercials were so bizarre they created a cultural movement (or at least a TikTok trend recreating the ad). 

4. Liquid Death: Canned Water

In a market dominated by plastic bottles and health-focused branding, Liquid Death chose to package water in tallboy cans and adopt a heavy metal aesthetic. In the process, it captured customer attention and created one of the fastest-growing CPG brands of all time.

The Bottom Line

The Von Restorff Effect underscores a fundamental truth in marketing: to capture more attention, sometimes you need to do the opposite of what's expected. By analyzing the strategies of Coinbase, Cadbury's, Starburst, and Liquid Death, it's clear that differentiation isn't just about making bizarre choices - it's about understanding what's "normal" and accepted in your category and then intentionally turning those norms on their heads. 



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About the author

Jen Clinehens, MS/MBA

Hi 👋 I'm Jen Clinehens (MS, MBA) the founder and Managing Director of Choice Hacking.

I started Choice Hacking in 2021 to help marketers and entrepreneurs figure out what makes buyers tick, and elevate their work using behavioral science, marketing psychology, and AI.

If you want to learn more, check out links to my newsletter, podcast, YouTube channel and other free resources below 👇


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