What makes me different: Distinctiveness Theory

distinctiveI haven’t posted about interesting advertising/marketing comms theories for a while…. sorry! Here’s a new one – well, sort of, as it really is very complimentary to Identification Theory. Distinctiveness Theory, actually shows nicely how different theories can work together in synergy.

Distinctiveness Theory was developed by McGuire in the 1970s, but has only been applied to marketing since the 1990s (one good article on it can be found here). The theory basically states that a person’s distinctive characteristics are  more salient to him/her than traits that are more common in the environment. An interesting aspect is that the most salient characteristics can change depending on environment. Take the example of an Asian woman: The potentially most salient characteristics in this example could be being Asian, or being a woman. How can we tell which one is most salient: It’s likely that it is the one the person feels as making her most distinct: So in the company of males it is likely to be being a woman; in the company of white (caucasian) people it’s most likely race. As the importance of the characteristics changes, so does the potential to use them for self-identification appeals in marketing: In an environment where most people are Asian, appealing to her as a woman is likely  to be more successful than emphasising being Asian – and vice versa. Thus, marketers need to understand both theories and use them together to successfully appeal to her.
Unfortunately many marketing campaigns stop short of using the second theory! So with a bit of extra knowledge, and some well applied theory, marketing comms can be made more successful – or as Lewin said in 1951: ‘There is nothing so practical as a good theory!’

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