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Is Doing the Unexpected Always the Right Marketing Move?

Updated: Apr 27

Would this jarring color combination found in this blue orange be a smart marketing move? Let's explore.

A little background, first of all: to be honest, this orange was a photo already there on this website template. I promise this was not out of laziness–it inspired me to write about it. To me this orange stands out because it is unexpected. If you clicked on it, it probably caught your eye like it caught mine.

In my research, this was the first article I looked at.

I’m going to be honest with you, I have no idea what a color singleton is.

I wish I had access to that paper, but alas I'm short $39.95. However, regardless of what a color singleton is, this study found that it didn’t make a difference as far as attention went (Gibson & Jiang, 1998).

Does this debunk the idea that unexpected colors increase attention? I think in the case of this photo, things are a little bit more complicated. I suspect this photo caught my attention because it feels wrong. And not in the sense of a simple color singleton, but rather that the orange does not fit the typical pattern of what an orange should follow.

Two popular theories of pattern recognition are Template Matching and Prototype Matching. Both rely on gathering information and comparing it to existing templates or prototypes. Prototype Matching simplifies the cumbersome need to have Templates for far more scenarios.

Being Memorable by Being Different?

Many studies indicate that we remember things better when novel stimuli are rare (Reggev, Sharoni, Maril, 2017). This makes sense, right? Evolutionarily, things that are unique draw our attention because they can have important implications as far as potential dangers or rewards go. However, I had in my notes "weird orange - doing the unexpected" but I forgot about this post until I saw the photo again.

Schematic incongruence

One prominent example is the “semantic congruency effect” (SCE), whereby stimuli that are congruent with previous knowledge are better remembered than novel stimuli that are incongruent with pre-existing semantic representations (Bein et al., 2015; Brewer & Treyens, 1981; Craik & Tulving, 1975; Gronau & Shachar, 2015; Schulman, 1974; Tibon, Gronau, Scheuplein, Mecklinger, & Levy, 2014; van Kesteren, Ruiter, Fernandez, & Henson, 2012). Case in point, the elements of the schema-congruent stimulus “yellow banana” are associated with better retrieval rates in subsequent recall and recognition tests than the elements of the schema-incongruent stimulus “purple banana” (Bein et al., 2015; Schulman, 1974). Notably, schema-incongruent pairs constitute conceptual novelty, the unfamiliar combination of familiar words or the variation of conceptually familiar schematic prototypes (Kagan, 20

All of this is very fancy, but what can we actually take home about this?

Something called the SLIMM model predicts that incongruence leads to better memory in certain situations, while worse memory in other situations, and it depends on context (Frank et. al, 2018). For example, a purple banana might not be remembered because it does not fit the schema of banana properly, yet it is not significantly different enough to be treated as truly novel stimuli. In other words, from my lay-person understanding, it kind of is treated like an error.

"The eye-tracking results indicate increased effort invested in encoding incongruent items, but this effort does not come into fruition later in retrieval performance" (Frank et. al, 2018). That is, even though your brain is trying harder to remember, there are not enough context cues to remind you when it comes to retrieval. This makes sense if we think about how schemas might enhance efficiency of retrieval.

As far as marketing is concerned, do not use a purple banana or blue orange, probably because blue and orange disagree. Later I will explore why you should instead do something much crazier.

Feature image by davisco.

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