The Psychology Behind the Old Spice

Watch these two clips and guess what they have in common…

What Do They Have In Common?
Yes. Both have been very successful social media and traditional media campaigns. (Although, the Invisible Monkey campaign resulted from a complaint from PETA.) Think back within the late 1990’s where marketing campaigns had talking dogs and frogs pitching their slogans like “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” or BUD-WIS-EER… Still don’t know?

They all share the cognitive psychology principle called the Von Restorff effect.

The Von Restorff effect is simply we are more likely to remember things that stand out. So here is an example taken from

Which of these words are you more likely to remember?

  • Jump
  • Cut
  • Run
  • Fly
  • Duck-billed platypus
  • Read
  • Build

If you said Duck-billed platypus… you are a winner. Two psychologist, Taylor & Fiske, (1978) indicated that attention is usually captured by salient, novel, surprising, or distinctive stimuli.

So how does this relate to invisible monkeys and witty manly men?

The more unique or weird an advertisement is… the more likely people will remember it. Think of it this way… If you were flipping through TV channels and all the ads looked the same (like cut, run, fly in our above list) and then suddenly you come across an ad that has a man “swan diving” into adventure (our duck-billed platypus), you are a heck more likely to remember it! These ads also shared another common trait.


Cartoon Used in Strick, Baaren, Holland, and Knippenberg, 2009

These campaigns also use humor. A 2009 study by Strick, Baaren, Holland, and Knippenberg found that products that were paired with humor (a humours cartoon above) were evaluated more positively than products paired with neutral advertising. This humor pairing phenomenon kind of works like the classical conditioning study with Pavlov’s dog…just rather than drooling, people are laughing and buying. So humor is an awesome way to change people’s attitudes about your product!

So what does this mean when constructing branding or marketing campaigns?


Why? Lets say you want to do another Old Spice Campaign, but use a lumberjack named Frank instead? The “manly man” concept is no longer unique, which means the Von Restorff effect will not happen. It’s like flipping through the channels and everything is the same! So be creative and come of with something new so you too can activate the Von Resorff effect.

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