The cocktail party effect – Personal elements are the key to attention

Daniel Kostyra

Due to human development certain events catch a person’s attention particularly fast, such as:

  • Sudden changes in one’s own environment (e. g. someone entering the room)
  • Stimuli that address our basic needs (e. g. food when you are hungry)
  • Stimuli that are linked with implicit memory contents (e. g. following a conversation about pregnancy you see pregnant women everywhere)
  • Words that have an increased personal meaning (e. g. the own name)


The latter is often used as a true-to-life example for the so-called Cocktailparty Effect. The Cocktailparty Effect describes the ability of selective hearing. It gives us the tendency to block out surrounding background noises, for example when we (suddenly) hear our name in a crowded bar - without having paid attention to it. And this quick shift and focus of attention is the thing that marketing is interested in. 


For this reason, the personal address is especially important in marketing communication. A letter to “the residents” of a house or a newsletter to “Dear Customer” almost guarantees that the recipient won’t notice it. If everyone reads their own name though, their attention is caught for at least this moment. But even apart from that, there are individual keywords that will call attention to them. Claudia for instance loves shoes, Bernd loves the FC Cologne. So for a  mail order company (e. g. Otto) with a wide product range it is recommended to choose the headlines (and also the contents) of its personal offers appropriately: “Shoe-Mania” for Claudia and “New assortment - noticeably different” for Bernd (slogan of the 1. FC Cologne).

And the same, of course, goes for image language. If I know e. g. the cinematic preferences of my clients (because as a video on demand provider I have order history), for announcements of new releases I select several different movie scenes for illustration purposes. Because usually there is also a romantic or funny sequence in every action movie, which might better apply to the customer’s preferences. This means, although I am announcing the same movie, I show an explosive action scene to one customer and the kissing lead actors to the other in order to initially catch their attention. 

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Daniel Kostyra

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Daniel Kostyra has been working as a Consultant for Cocomore since June 2014. Before he was a research assistant in Marketing at the Goethe University in Frankfurt. If you ask him, what he is doing at Cocomore, he says: “I know, what I do, even if I can’t always explain, what I make”.

Describing Kosy in four words: curious, talkative, black humor, not bearded.