Substituting Doom with Cows

So what am I going to talk about? Something to do with consumer psychology, I hope. Maybe we could start off thinking of the many different shampoos we could choose from. I took the liberty of entering “shampoo” into a supermarket’s search engine.

In a website of a supermarket called Tesco

I found 138 different shampoos in one store, excluding those shampoo and conditioner combo-bottles and whatnot. I feel that is a lot of choice. Moreover, everyday, millions of people have thousands of advertisements parading for them each (Wright, Khanfar, Harrington & Kizer, 2010). Meanwhile, most humans can only notice and process so much (Serences, 2011), and recall only so much of what they had noticed (Sara & Hars, 2006). In conclusion, there is a need to make products, adverts, whatever you want to stand out, to hypothetically grab people’s brains to stare at your product and brand and hopefully in a good way (Faircloth, Capella & Alford, 2001Pieters, Warlop & Wedel, 2002). The effect of being a penguin in the haystack with that needle within the metaphorical world is the von Restorff effect (Bireta, Surprenant & Neath, 2008).

One proposed attention capture device is absurdity (Arias-Bolzmann, Chakraborty & Mowen, 2000). Absurdity can be defined as the illogical such as the act of substituting symmetric doom with cows in an enclosed space (Arias-Bolzmann et al., 2000). If the previous example is actually logical, please, let me know.

Absurd things can be conspicuous as they can be classed as novel things, which human, through evolution, may be sensitive to due to an advantage of noticing changes in the environment (Arias-Bolzmann et al., 2000; Johnston, Hawley, Plewe, Elliott & Dewitt, 1990). If you cannot notice a new grizzly bear standing in plain sight in a living room, you might be in more trouble than if you did see it and treated it with respect (Herrero & Fleck, 1989). The unexpected can also receive more attention by encouraging people to think harder about it (Houston, Childers & Hecklers, 1987). This greater amount of processing can in turn create better memories (Hecklers & Childers, 1992). What’s more, Gelbrich, Gäthke and Westjohn (2012) too found that adverts containing absurdity were better remembered than adverts without absurdity in the United States of America, Russia, Germany and China.

Something in the middle row here is attracting my attention amidst this collection of products

Some other things in

Absurdity can also help those with negative opinions of the brand to gain a better image of the brand (Arias-Bolzmann et al., 2000). This is potentially related to how absurdity can also be humourous (Arias-Bolzmann et al., 2000). Likewise, Gürkaynak, Uçel and Günerergin (2011) concluded that humour can also promote better brand images. However, humour, in these harder economic times, may not increase sales (Gürkaynak et al., 2011). Instead, discounts were found to promote sales more effectively (Gürkaynak et al., 2011), but humour is good to build better brand images. Still, not everything can be advertised with humour (Eisend, 2007). A study have found that practical products that were less risky buys, e.g. can openers and door stops, did not pair well with humourous adverts (Eisend, 2007). Hence, if you want to use absurdity and humour to gain attention, best think about your product.

Copyright © 2013 Thoughts for Creation


About Thoughts for Creation

A blog containing pieces of information concerning consumer psychology, including package design, label design, marketing styles and some other topics. Link: ~ Thoughts for Creation


  1. This blog left me with a huge craving for bacon! I didn’t realise I could have literally everything in my life converted into bacon form…although bacon soap might be pushing it.

    I’ve never really thought of absurdity as a branding tool, but as you’ve shown it really is very effective. Would you say that novelty and absurdity are quite similar marketing tools?

    • That was an interesting outcome!

      I would say they are different, but they can do the same thing, as absurdity is a means to create novel and humourous things (Arias-Bolzmann et al., 2000). However, the absurd can become ordinary eventually as humans can add novel things to their framework of the world (Gauthier, Tarr, Anderson, Skudlarski & Gore, 1999). Hence, the absurd and the novel are similar in that aspect, but absurd things are not always novel unless the environment changes to make them logical. For example, until infants can learn this level of motor skills, this advert still seems illogical:


      Arias-Bolzmann, L., Chakraborty, G., & Mowen, J. C. (2000). Effects of absurdity in advertising: The moderating role of product category attitude and the mediating role of cognitive responses. Journal of Advertising, 29, 35-49. Retrieved from

      Gauthier, I., Tarr, M. J., Anderson, A. W., Skudlarski, P., & Gore, J. C. (1999). Activation of the middle fusiform ‘face area’ increases with expertise in recognizing novel objects. Nature Neuroscience, 2, 568-573. Retrieved from

  2. I think in addition, being absurd with the adverts but also with the design of the products / in store marketing materials. Of course have to be similar / same advertising materials (absurd materials) when it comes to in-store marketing, as it has to be aligned with the absurd TV adverts in order to trigger consumers’ LTM. But there are examples which the design of the products itself can capture consumers’ attention. E.g. POM wonderful (a fruit juice brand which can be purchased in the Morrisons) where the design of the bottle is rather absurd, the complex of the bottle is made up of 3 spheres and Kellogg’s new special honey / strawberry clusters (also can be purchased in the Morrisons), the design of the cereal box is not 100% rectangular as one of the sides is in a concaved shape, and apparently according to Dr. James Intriligator (they did a concaved box study), the design of that particular cereal box is more likely to capture consumers’ attention.
    Also apart from the absurdity / creativity of adverts, I think marketers / advertisers should also bear in mind that the ways consumer spend their money are influenced heavily by the macroenviornment, so they have to be constantly on their toes and develop different advertising strategies. :D

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