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The distinctive theory states that certain visuals within our surroundings capture people’s attention, get noticed, and are perceived as missing, absent, or different from other stimuli. Adverts carrying caricatures or cartoons for example often stand out due to their uniqueness, and garner more attention from viewers when compared to more conventional marketing products.

Psychological and marketing research reveals that individuals use distinctiveness rules as a means to establish and maintain some differentiation from others. By its very nature, advertisement attempts to establish exclusiveness so that the subject brand is distinctive.

Distinctiveness studies show that an individual’s personal traits such as ethnicity will only be perceived as important when that person recognises his or her ethnicity to be different from others and when these distinctive traits are an important part of the person’s self-concept. Surprisingly, distinctiveness theory suggests that people feel better about themselves when they have moderate similarity to others rather than high or low similarity.

As the target audience for advertisements, we generally identify more with adverts that portray ‘sketchy’ or generalised depictions of us than those that are more specific in their representations. Therefore, the distinctiveness theory implies that adverts that shows sketch human spokespeople may produce better consumer responses than adverts using spokespeople who are demographically matched to the target audience.

The creation of a cartoon character to be a spokesperson or a representative of a brand is seen based on the theory to be of great benefit because there is less similarity between it and the target audience. Seeing representations of human figures in adverts does little to stimulate or capture the attention of the target audience as the imagery is no different from what is perceived by the human eye everyday.

Another dimension of distinctiveness theory concerns the mechanism by which environmental stimuli capture a person’s attention. The distinctiveness of an object, thing, or person is said to be context-specific. To be considered distinctive, a stimulus must develop and sustain clear boundaries that differentiate it from other entities.

In other words, there must be a clear distinction between a stimulus and any other objects that are in the vicinity. An advertisement may be considered “distinctive” if it has unique traits that distinguish it from other stimuli. The advertising distinctiveness will be the element of the advertisement that captures viewers’ attention and ultimately leads to better advert recall than the non-distinctive components.

A cartoon, caricature or any other line-based imagery has a higher chance of being noticed by the target audience because they tend to look so different, so distinctive when compared to others. Unfortunately, continued or repeated use of such stimuli may lead to less distinction. Distinctiveness also has the capacity to influence cognitive and behavioural responses toward the source of distinctiveness.

Children tend to like products that have imagery of well-known cartoons such as “Ben 10”, “Penguins of Madagascar” or “Shrek”, not only because the characters are likeable, but also because they may have grown into liking everything associated with the characters. When a distinctiveness effect is present in an advert, the marketing tool becomes different from other adverts in the environment. A soft drink such as Fanta that makes use of cartoons automatically distinguishes itself from all other soft drinks and that difference becomes the perfect stimuli capable of attracting and holding viewers’ attention, and ultimately, influencing their responses to the advert.

Researchers have found that compared with ads with no animation, animated Internet advertising produces more favourable attitudinal responses toward the character and the Website, as well as higher levels of perceived entertainment.

Other Web-related research shows that animation contributes positively to the consumer elaboration process, increases character and Website liking, and enhances the Website entertainment value. Animated agents in computers have also been posited to lead to more efficient problem solving, understanding, and learning, as well as more time spent with the system than when animation is not used.

These Internet-based findings suggest that animation and cartoon spokespeople may generate similar positive consumer outcomes in other advertising media. Psychology studies have shown that information associated with different individuals is easier to memorise.

Similarly, increased memory and recall of salient stimuli is optimal under conditions of moderate distinctiveness. Such discernible differences may be necessary for advertisements to be considered divergent, logical, and well crafted. It appears, then, that advert distinctiveness is cognitively evaluated.

Thus, increasing elaboration of a distinctive stimulus should lead to increased elaboration of the creativity dimensions (e.g. originality, resolution) associated with the distinctive trait. In this sense, the distinctiveness and perceived creativity associated with advertising stimuli should be linked in consumers’ minds.

It is a wonder why very few brands choose line drawings as part of their advertising campaigns. Cartoons and caricature stand out when compared to photographs. Their use in marketing campaigns is sure to make the brand distinctive.

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