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Creative Brand Purpose Gen Z

The Von Restorff effect says unlikeliness catches attention – so make your ads weird

By Jeff Bowerman, Executive creative director



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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June 20, 2024 | 8 min read

Distinctive communications stand out in a world of sameness, says Jeff Bowerman of Dept. Make sure your brand stands out in the moments that matter.

A pug wearing a harness stands behind a pineapple

The key to being weird? Be distinctive, entertaining, and authentic, says Jeff Bowerman / Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash

What is weird? It’s relative but, generally speaking, weird is all things unusual, bizarre, or unexpected.

Weirdness is also singular and original, the stuff we find whenever we think outside of the box. And, when it comes to advertising, that’s the stuff we’re looking for.

For our purposes, as we explore why weird works so well for advertising, let’s make some adjustments. Weirdness isn’t ‘unusual’; it’s distinctive. Weirdness isn’t ‘bizarre’; it’s entertaining. And, weirdness isn’t ‘unexpected’; it’s authentic.

The method to your weirdness

The Von Restorff Effect holds that “when multiple homogeneous stimuli are presented, the stimulus that differs from the rest is more likely to be remembered.”

Weird stands out – and that’s a scientific fact. By leaning into weirdness, brands can have a memorable impression on audiences.

As Byron Sharp explains in How Brands Grow, brands all too often focus on explaining to customers why their product is different from their competitor’s version. Instead, their main priority should just be to create distinctive communications.

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Brands that are easy to recall in buying situations are described as having good mental availability, which you can think of as mental real estate.

As people, we only have so much space in our brains. It’s no surprise that – with individuals consuming 74GB of information daily – around 90% of advertising goes unnoticed. That’s why securing a place for your brand within the fraction of information that people actually remember is considered a foundation of brand building.

To stick in people’s heads, you need to stand out. And to stand out, you need to figure out how to be the weirdo in your category. For some brands, this involves building your entire identity on weird. For others, weirdness is more intentional. Like an unexpected ad or collab that ambushes consumers with surprise weirdness.

But being weird doesn’t always mean being overtly bold or excessive, either. In some categories, the weirdo that stands out is the one that’s the most… ordinary.

Weirdly entertaining

Whatever the method to your weirdness, the key to achieving distinctiveness with your brand is to figure out how to zig while everyone else zags. In the era of the attention economy, the brands that win are the brands that get people to look at their stuff.

To ensure your brand joins them in the winner’s circle, you need to take into account these guidelines from Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Evolution. Firstly, recognize that attention is a limited resource. Then, pay attention to where you pay attention.

On Instagram, where 95 million photos and videos are shared daily, what types of content do you pay attention to? Odds are, it’s the most entertaining content.

No one has to watch your content in the world of social media – they have to choose to watch it. And to get people to choose your content, it has to be entertaining. Fortunately, weirdness is the perfect hack for creating entertainment.

Weirdness is the opposite of boring. Weirdness makes people laugh. And, most importantly, weirdness can stop people in their tracks… or, in the middle of their scroll. Ultimately, in a world where entertainment is everything, weird is your secret sauce in the recipe for engagement.

Wonderfully authentic

Let’s talk about gen Z. This group of nearly 2bn young consumers is an entire generation of weirdos.

Thanks to the internet, these digital natives represent the most interconnected generation ever. Having been exposed to infinite subcultures, lifestyles, genders, and sexualities, it’s arguable that gen Z is the most progressive of any generation when it comes to their views and choices.

As a result, weird is normal for gen Z. And, in turn, normal is weird. Here’s what the stats say. Some 67% of Gen Z prefer ads that show people in real situations, 65% of Gen Z dislike ads that make people look perfect, and 70% of Gen Z like ads that show diversity in their representation.

Authenticity is the gold standard for Gen Z – they crave weirdness that feels real. That’s why the fastest-growing brands in the world are the most authentically weird ones. These are the brands that do weird in a kitschy, homemade way. The ones that are a little rude in their weirdness. And the ones who use the power of weird to be a little rebellious. Even drawing attention to something bigger than their brand.

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While audiences like it when brands keep it real, reality isn’t boring. So why make what your brand does boring? Be authentic to the weird world. In case you’re wondering what the best way of putting these takeaways into action is… hire more weirdos!

Now, make weird work.

Creative Brand Purpose Gen Z

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