Tall poppyWe’ve probably all felt somewhat isolated over the past 18 months. Especially anyone who lives and/or works alone. And especially during periods of so-called ‘lockdown’.

But, in the same way that being alone doesn’t equate to being lonely, isolation isn’t always a bad thing.

This article covers why isolation can help in your marketing.

I’ve talked before about advertising that needs to stand out like Ayers Rock / Uluru, not blend in like Everest / Chomolungma. Even if you are the biggest and best in the world, you need to be different from your surroundings if you really want to get noticed and make an impact.



This has a name – the Von Restorff effect.

“When multiple homogeneous stimuli are presented, the stimulus that differs from the rest is more likely to be remembered”

In 1933, Hedwig von Restorff did a study where participants were presented with a list of categorically similar items including one distinctive, isolated item. She found that memory was improved for the ‘odd one out’. She also found that such distinctiveness can be created from changing the context, or by changing the physical nature of the stimulus, such as size, shape, colour, spacing or underlining.

Test yourself 1

Which of these items stands out most to you?

  • Desk
  • Chair
  • Bed
  • Table
  • Chipmunk
  • Dresser
  • Stool
  • Couch

Chances are you gave the word ‘chipmunk’ a bit more attention because the meaning is out of context in a list of other words which are all types of furniture.

Test yourself 2

Which of these items stands out most to you?

  • Bread
  • Milk
  • Apples
  • Tomatoes
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Pizza
  • Ice cream

Chances are you noticed the word ‘tomatoes’ most because it’s written in red while the other food items are listed in dark grey. It stands out because the font is presented differently.

Why this happens

There are various theories about why isolated items get remembered more than non-isolated items:

  • Isolated items are rehearsed for a longer time in working memory
  • Similarities and differences are compared as part of deep processing
  • Isolated items are considered to be in their own special category, making them easier to recollect
  • Empirical data has shown that exposure to novel or isolated items on a list for free recall generates an event-related potential (ERP) in the brain with a larger amplitude – this predicts a higher likelihood of future recall and faster recognition of the items
  • Contextual incongruity leads to differential attention (that’s the modern theory, and the one I tend to agree with)

Read about the Von Restorff effect on Wikipedia

Tall poppy syndrome

Unlike marketing, where you want your brand, product or service to stand out, get noticed and be remembered, being isolated as an individual can have its downsides.

If you are believed to have an excessively high opinion of yourself or your importance, people might perceive you as immodest, egotistical and vain.

To draw you towards humility and self-deprecation, they might try to mock you, hold you back, put you down, criticise your achievements, or even deliberately sabotage your success. This is called “cutting down the tall poppy”, especially in Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

This is not a new phenomenon. The phrase was first documented in 1864, while the earliest English-language example of tall poppies being used as a metaphor for notables was published in the Observator newspaper in 1710.

What this means to you

When marketing your brand, product or service, your first task is to stand out and get noticed. That means you don’t want to promote yourself the same as your competitors. Don’t imagine you have to do things a certain way “because that’s how it’s done in our industry”. Try doing something completely different. (We can help with that.)

It reminded me of this. Very much of its time. 1971.

On the other hand, ‘tall poppy syndrome’ leaves sole traders with a problem. When marketing our own personal brand, we need to brag a bit. Overcome our natural modesty. Blow our own trumpets (parp parp).

This doesn’t mean making promises we can’t keep – remember, marketing must be legal, decent, honest and truthful under Advertising Standards Authority guidelines.

It does mean supporting all your claims with evidence, and not using empty adjectives or clichés.

This is where proper copywriting comes in.

My team of journalist-turned-copywriters write fact-filled copy without fluff. Because that way, your marketing will not only stand out from the rest, it’s also more likely to be believed and acted upon.

If you’d like a quote, give me a call.

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