What purple vans and dinosaur taco holders have to do with Marketing


By Sheena McKinney, Executive Assistant at Heinz Marketing

I’ll never forget when I first noticed what I now know is The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, also known as Frequency Illusion.

Though odd, this phenomenon has nothing to do with odds.  I’ll explain in a minute.

Back in the mid 1990’s we were parents just about to embark on the mini-van-stage-of-life.

This was before mid-size SUV’s and crossovers so, at least for my husband, it felt like the days of having a vehicle with any prestige at all had to be sacrificed for the convenience of the dreaded mini-van.

The need for practicality with two kids in car seats– with all their gear and driving to school, play dates, and activities– finally won out.

We were lucky our mini-van shopping coincided with the debut of driver side doors.  Yes… once upon a time, mini-vans only opened on the passenger side.  I realize I’m dating myself now… but wait, it gets worse.

This was during the infancy of the internet and Google reviews and car finding apps didn’t exist yet.

My husband likes to research and get the best deal.  Back then, he was pretty much limited to the phone book, word of mouth referrals, and newspapers.

This is the most likely reason we ended up with the color minivan we did— officially it was called  “Aubergine” (the color of eggplant and the word you’ll hear used for this vegetable if you watch British baking/cooking shows).

This picture was taken the day we bought the van (notice the price of haircuts in the background? yes, I feel old).

It was purple.  Not a vivid, crazy purple, but it was purple.

I actually loved it, but it was another bit of compromise for my husband who already felt somewhat emasculated by becoming a mini-van owner.

We’d never seen this color anywhere on any car.  In retrospect it was probably why it was the best deal around… something that soothed my husband’s loss of not having what he thought was a “cool” car– At least we got a good deal.

Then the weirdest thing happened.

We started seeing purple minivans all the time after that… or it least it seemed like it!

Yet if you Google it today, there are literally no results. Purple cars are not common, even now… but we still saw them a lot in the days and months after getting the van.

This is a classic case of frequency illusion which is “a cognitive bias in which, after noticing something for the first time, there is a tendency to notice it more often, leading someone to believe that it has a high frequency (a form of selection bias).[1][2][3] It occurs when increased awareness of something creates the illusion that it is appearing more often.[4] Put plainly, the frequency illusion is when “a concept or thing you just found out about suddenly seems to crop up everywhere.”[5]

What reminded me of all of this was a very recent case of frequency illusion…. (AKA the recency bias)

I was on a Zoom call where the speaker mentioned for his birthday he bought himself a dinosaur shaped taco holder (retail value approximately $20).  I never saw a picture, but I could imagine it and It struck me as funny because this guy makes more money than most of us can imagine and could buy anything he wanted.  I didn’t think much more of it, but about a week later, I spotted a dinosaur taco holder when I was walking through a store!  I thought, “What are the odds?”

I mentioned it to my husband who said, “ya, it’s the purple-minivan-thing“.

With good old Google at my fingertips it wasn’t hard to discover the name for what was happening:  The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.  

OK great– but what does it have to do with marketing?

Your first thought is probably retargeting or remarketing (two different things actually)– which even for marketers who use them, we still find creepy sometimes.

Re-targeting or re-marketing isn’t the only way to take advantage of this naturally occurring phenomenon.

Ari Vivekanandarajah, in her article, “Marketing philosophy—the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon and its impact on marketing” points to the importance of nurturing your audience and how this weird sounding (but common) phenomenon can help– providing you have a good marketing strategy in place.

It works subconsciously by;

SELECTIVE ATTENTION (your brain is subconsciously seeking out more information on the subject).

Tips on How to use it in your marketing:

    • Get into their heads so they notice you.
    • Focus marketing efforts on letting potential customers know you exist through content that sparks interest and makes them question how they ever survived without your product or service.
    • Make your unique selling point(s) memorable. Even if it’s something that everyone else is doing, if you’re the first to be explicit about it, people will associate it with your brand.
    • Always portray your brand in a positive light.
    • Make sure you formulate a clear and positive brand message with clear benefits

CONFIRMATION BIAS (every time you see something related to the subject, your brain tells you that it’s proof the subject has gained popularity)

Tips on How to use it in your marketing – Nurture your audience through tactics like:

    • Targeted emails
    • Retargeting ad campaigns
    • Ad boosts on social media

Worth a try, right?

Maybe you already knew this term.  If not.. you’re welcome.

How will you use it in your marketing strategy and tactics?

I can almost guarantee you’ll see this word or concept again soon!