You have likely heard of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon (BMPH) before.

If you haven't, you'll probably hear about it again soon...

BMPH is an illusion where something that has recently gained your attention seems to appear a lot more frequently.

(I am not talking about facebook ads here. When you click on a website and you see their ads all over you feed, they are intentionally targeting you and you really are seeing their brand more - that's retargeting.)

When you buy a car, it's behind the feeling that your car has suddenly got a lot more popular. In reality you are just noticing people with the same car as you now. Your estimated frequency becomes warped due to noticing every occurrence.

All people experience this effect due to the fact it would be impossible to scientifically test every situation we are in, so our brains estimations based on the stronger stimuli. We don't have the time to conduct a mathematical test to prove we are making the correct judgement.

"A lot o' people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch o' unconnected incidents 'n things. They don't realize that there's this, like, lattice o' coincidence that lays on top o' everything. Give you an example; show you what I mean: suppose you're thinkin' about a plate o' shrimp. Suddenly someone'll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate o' shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin' for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconciousness." Alex Cox - Repo Man

Why Does This Happen?

We are exposed to thousands of stimuli every day. When you walk down the street, you hear cars beeping, people chatting and phones ringing. On top of this you will see hundreds of faces, cars, shops etc..

We cant consciously think about every single thing we see and hear. If we did, it would be impossible to concentrate on anything. So our brains filter out experiences it sees as unimportant.

Do you remember the face of every person you pass? No. But you may remember the face of one person you thought looked interesting or attractive, despite being exposed to for the same amount of time as other people else.

This is called selective attention. We remember the things we deem important.

You may recognise some of the people who you cross paths with on the way to work - people you see everyday. In reality, you repeatedly see many more people than you consciously know you do, but they just blend it.

One day if you fell over and someone who previously blended in helps you up, you would notice they would start appearing more over the next few weeks. They've always been there, you just didn't notice.

Why is it named after a West German Terrorist group?

The comments section of the Minnesota St.Pauls Pioneer Press, like the comments sections of other large newspapers can be an interesting place. One commenter in the 1990's saw two references to the Baader-Meinhof group (a 1970's West German terrorist group) within 24 hours. He coined the term the 'Baader-Meinhof phenomenon' and it spread. Scientists also refer to the it as the frequency illusion.

What Does This Mean For Marketers?

Frequency illusion can clearly work incredibly well for brands. You only need to grab your audiences attention once and there is a high chance of them noticing your brand in other places. If you ad makes a strong impression, your potential customers will have your product at the front of their mind. Suddenly they notice their friends wearing it or their colleague talking about it and your ads can get magnified for free.

By grabbing attention your brand will be remembered for that experience and reminded of it when they see your brand again.

You may think that selling faulty goods would reflect badly on your company, and generally you'd be right.

However that may not always be the case. In 1912 Leon L. Bean sold boots out of the basement of his brothers shop and offered a money back guarantee if customers weren't satisfied. He quickly sold his first 100 pairs. Not long after these sales, 90 got returned due to separation of the tops with the sole.

A 90% return rate is high enough to cripple any business, especially one just starting out. Bean fulfilled his promise and returned every dissatisfied customers money, something that nearly bankrupted him.

Customers realised that he was trustworthy and weren't taking a risk by handing over their money. He corrected the issues with his shoes and word spread about his returns policy and honesty with applying it.

The company has grown to over $1 billion in yearly sales.

Whenever customers saw his shoes it reminded them of a trustworthy shoe shop as he created a great first impression. Customers can be very kind with you on mistakes if you are genuine and they trust you. Their first experience is vital for your brand.


Conversely, if your company grabs attention or the wrong reasons it can be difficult to change that perception. The New York Times learned this the hard way. They intended to send messages to recently cancelled subscribers telling them they could re-join at a discounted rate. The message ended up going out to nearly 8 million people. Even those who had be subscribed for years, were loyal to the newspaper. As could be expected, they kicked off, many demanded the same rate and others left.

Make sure you're emails are segmented and you are prepared to honour any discounts to loyal customers who ask. The New York Times were able to apologise and move past the mistake but others haven't been so lucky.

You'll want to start with strong ad copy, an attention-grabbing headline, and memorable images to attract your audience and introduce them to your company.


[1] http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002611.html