The Baader-Meinhof Effect: the Explanation of Psychology to why Suddenly a Product or a Brand is Everywhere

A few years ago, a yellow jacket from Zara became viral, so much so that the media dedicated coverage and social networks talked about it to the point of satiety. On Facebook came to be a group of “victims.”

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A few years ago, a yellow jacket from Zara became viral, so much so that the media dedicated coverage and social networks talked about it to the point of satiety. On Facebook came to be a group of “victims.”

The jacket had become such an object of desire that it became sold out in stores and sold on second-hand websites for twice the original price. Everyone wanted the happy jacket, but at the same time everyone seemed to have it. On the street, the yellow jacket had become ubiquitous and wherever you looked you ended up meeting someone who dressed her. The ubiquity of the yellow jacket was such that accounts appeared on Instagram that followed the sightings and even humorous vignettes on the subject.

But was the yellow jacket everywhere real or was it almost a kind of illusion that we thought it was? Psychology has in fact an explanation for that and a name for the phenomenon that makes us feel that we are seeing the same product all the time everywhere.

The Baader-Meinhof effect was not born by an explanation linked to purchases and products but it serves to explain many things related to them. The phenomenon is also known as the frequency of the illusion. Initially, it affects one in every 1,000 people but in a certain way we have all felt at some point that this was happening to us. As explained in Clickz, is what happens when suddenly someone close to us recommends something (a brand, a movie, a book …) and that recommended product appears everywhere. We cross it at all times in as many messages as possible.

It is not coincidence and it is not that the brand has been attentive to our private conversations. The messages of the product were already there and were already circulating around us, simply our brain was not seeing and processing until someone close told us about it.

Returning to the yellow jacket of Zara: the jacket was already circulating through the streets on a recurring basis (after all, the product sold out just before everyone started talking about it) but our brain saw it only as background noise until suddenly someone told us the story.

The phenomenon of the illusion of frequency is therefore marked by a mention. When someone talks to you about that product, whether for good or for bad, then you will recognize more of the product in question and you will see more.

Psychological mechanisms at play

Our brain has set in motion two mechanisms. On the one hand, it has changed how it applies its selective attention criteria. Our brain does not pay attention to 100% of the things that surround us, but only to a part of them. We do not have the capacity to process everything: it would be too exhausting. Until then, the product had been left out of the selection, but when they talk about it, it enters it.

On the other hand, our mind is applying the confirmation bias. Every time we see the subject or product in question from ‘now’ our brain feels reconfirmed in its appreciation. That is, confirms once again that the subject is becoming fashionable because he is seeing it again and again.

Why it matters to the marketers

This phenomenon is important for the marketing strategy for many reasons. First, understanding how it operates helps brands understand how things become viral and how products become more popular.

Second, understanding it also helps to sharpen the strategy, especially when you want to make a product the subject of the moment. The marketers have to encourage that this type of associations take place, for example using the repetition of messages and a greater frequency of recommendations or encouraging consumers to talk about their products.