The Von Restorff Effect: The Science Behind Standing Out and Being Memorable

A mental model to be more memorable
The Von Restorff Effect: The Science Behind Standing Out and Being Memorable
Jake McNeill
July 15, 2021
5 min read
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Most creators would state standing out is their main challenge. But it’s not just standing out, it’s being memorable.

In this post, I will explain how you can stand out and be memorable using the Von Restorff mental model.

We’re all competing for attention.

Business is not complicated. To make money, you’ve got to:

  1. Get noticed
  2. Be Memorable
  3. Build trust
  4. Have a product or service that people want. 

While that is all straightforward: it’s not easy. 

What is the Von Restorff Effect?

Also known as the isolation effect is named after German psychiatrist Hedwig von Restorff.

In 1933 she conducted a study to see what things stood out and were more memorable.

She listed a bunch of similar items with just one distinctive item. 

The distinctive item was the most remembered. 

Von Restorff’s most obvious contribution was that the distinctiveness of an item depends on a strong similarity among the non-isolated items. 

Read the following list: 1, 2, 3, 4, 107, 6, 7.

You’re going to remember 107.  

Richard Shotton a behavioral science consultant did a similar experiment

“My colleague, Laura Weston, and I investigated. We gave 500 nationally representative participants a list of numbers: 15 written in black, one in blue. A short time later we asked which number they recalled. Respondents were 30 times more likely to recall the distinctive number.”

Don’t follow the Herd

Standing out seems risky. People are reluctant to do it. 

But it is your greatest asset. 

Ed Sheeran was rejected by record labels as they didn’t believe slightly chubby ginger blokes could sell records.

It was a combination of Ed’s talent and his unorthodox looks that helped him stand out and go viral on urban channel SBTV.

Ed is memorable.

It was Apple’s white earphones that stood out and caught people’s attention when they first launched the iPods. 

White earphones were memorable.

To stand out and get noticed you have to be different.

Why does it work? Our brains are constantly scanning for breaks in habits. Things that break patterns.

You only have to look at TV adverts to see the Von Restorff effect at work.

One of the most famous and memorable TV adverts of the 1990s was for Tango.

You know when you’ve been Tangoed worked because it stood out. 

One of the most memorable adverts of the 20th Century featured a Gorilla playing the drum to Phil Collin’s. 

Ask most people and they will remember the brand it was promoting despite not seeing the advert for nearly 15 years. 

It is estimated that we are all exposed to 6,000 -10,000 adverts every day. How many can you remember?

The Marmite Effect

For those outside the UK, Marmite is a yeast spread. It famously polarises people who either love it or hate it.

Studies have shown 45% of people love it, 40% of people hate it and 14% just don’t care. 

Marmite lean into this and leverage it to their benefit 

“There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” — Oscar Wilde

This is your job as a creator. You create content that divides opinions.

I managed a band called Scouting for Girls. They weren’t the most talented band I worked with but they wrote ridiculously catchy songs that divided opinion.

A lot of people loved them. Even more, hated them…

The more people hated on them the more the fans defended them and the more people talked about them.

This helped them sell millions of albums and hundreds of thousands of tickets for shows. 

Be memorable by diving opinion or being outrageous or even, simply, being honest with your audience and treating them with empathy and integrity in niches that are full of bullshit fake gurus. 

There are always ways to stand out and be memorable; you just need to find them and choose something that is authentic to your personality. 


  • Stand out by being different. All headphones were black so Apple made white headphones. Now white is the most common colour.
  • I can’t remember a single TV advert I have seen this year but I remember the Tango advert from 20 years ago. Why? Because it stands out and is memorable.
  • Stand out by creating marmite content that divides opinions. 
  • Go against the crowd. Stand out by standing against all the bullshit in your niche.
  • Stand out by treating your audience with empathy and compassion. 

A bit about me

I’m an ex- multi-platinum artist manager. I created strategies and built audiences for artists who sold millions. I’ve challenged myself to write 50 articles in 50 working days. 45 down, 5 to go.

You can read more in the archives here. Find out more information on my website or connect on my LinkedIn

Interested in 1:1 Creative Business/ Personal Branding Strategy?

I help creators and solopreneurs become famous in their niches. I specialise in:

  • Critical thinking and mental models for clarity and focus
  • Building simple repeatable processes to achieve long term goals
  • Starting new creative businesses
  • Standing out in saturated markets
  • Overcoming creative blocks that are holding you back
  • Turning audiences into super fans

I do discovery calls to see if we’re a good fit.

Cost? $0.00 Commitment? Zero. Time? 30 minutes

More info? Go here

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