After England's early exit from the Euros, patriotic sports fans have turned their attention to Wimbledon. Britain still have strong representation in the form of the Murray brothers.

While Andy gets most of the attention, it's actually Jamie who has the higher ranking: currently doubles world number 1. Perhaps part of his strength is due to a natural advantage. He's left-handed.

My colleague, Hermione Russell, and I have quantified the benefit. Over the last 10 years 28% of the male Grand Slam winners, across singles and doubles, have been left-handers. That's a significant over-achievement considering just 12% of the population are left-handed.

It seems left-handedness offers an advantage to tennis players. But why? The answer lies in their distinctiveness. Most opponents are right-handed so when players confront lefties they're flummoxed: serves tend to spin the other way and their opponent's weak backhand is on the opposite side.

It's not just tennis where this advantage occurs, we also analysed the leading boxers. According to data from the Ring magazine, southpaws, as left-handers are known, account for 35% of the top ranked fighters across the seventeen weight divisions. Yet again, distinctiveness is an advantage.

Most interestingly of all, the same is true in advertising: distinctiveness boosts memorability.

The marketing application

Academic evidence proving the value of distinctiveness stretches back to 1933 and the pioneering work of Hedwig Von Restorff. The fantastically named German paediatrician gave participants a list of objects and then, after a short time, asked them to remember the items. The results showed that it was the items that stood out from the others that were most recalled.

The world has changed since 1933 but Hedwig's findings still stand. ZenithOptimedia conducted a test among 500 nationally representative consumers in which they were shown 24 numbers, all written in grey, bar one.

When asked to recall one of the numbers 98% of the participants spontaneously mentioned the number fourteen, which had been written in blue. Distinctiveness ensures memorability.

Why is it such a rare strategy?

So if distinctiveness is such an obvious strategy then why do few brands employ it?

Perhaps because of the principal-agent problem: what is in the interest of the brand, the principal, is not necessarily in the interest of the marketing manager, the agent. If the campaign flops and the campaign broke category rules then it might be the end of the brand manager's career.

Imagine explaining to the CEO as sales dive that the key message of your campaign was counter to the prevailing wisdom. Even referencing Von Restorff might not save you.

For safe career progression then this tactic is questionable. However, if you want the best chance of growing your brand then revel in a distinctive approach.


Richard Shotton is a member of the Effective Channel Integration panel of the Warc Media Awards.
You can read all of Richard's blogs here.