The Novelty Paradox: Why Your Attractive New Ad May Make Your Brand Less Meaningful

Most commercial messages contain too many elements, all competing with one another for our understanding, and the elements themselves may be uninteresting, unclear, or off-message.
Marty Neumeier, Zag

Companies try to make their brands stand out and be different: they try to constantly be new to gain a competitive advantage. In short, they use newness as a path to relevance. But, this quest to be relevant has affected their ability to be meaningful.

Wanting to do something new is understandable: just the word new will attract consumer attention.

And, there’s nothing wrong with doing things that are new. Psychobiologically, novelty is something humans crave: Novelty—if it’s something entirely new—triggers the production of dopamine (a neurotransmitter) which, in turn, increases a person’s motivation to act.1 Biologically, this triggered desire to try something new is rooted in new information potentially making us learn something new about how to survive.

Novelty is tied to learning to survive. That’s powerful stuff.

But, this same link between novelty and learning is what forces many brands to struggle with being meaningful. This is the result of three factors:

  1. The mind is a story-taking machine: stories are learning devices that give people information that can help guide them to make better future decisions.2
  2. The mind is a story-making machine: any image can send the mind into creating its own story of what that image means and how it relates to other stories.3
  3. A brand is a recall device: seeing a brand makes you recall all your associations about what a brand is, what it stands for, and how it makes you feel.

When a consumer encounters a novel image tied to a brand, they are driven to learn about it. In learning about it, they also compare it to existing information: is it new and how does it fit into what I already know? And, when the new idea doesn’t connect with what they recall about the brand—which is often the case—they have an internal conflict about what the brand means. They’ll wonder: Has the brand changed? Was I duped before? Am I being duped now? What’s true about this brand?

None of these questions lead to loyalty or being able to identify with a brand. And, as Neumeier mentions in the opening quotation: sometimes these new ideas happen multiple times in an ad. That’s a lot of confusion and that’s what the potential customer will experience when making a purchase decision.

Novelty is a powerful tool; but, it’s also a dangerous one. The key is to use novelty to attract interest, but make sure it’s a new expression of something you always stood for and how you always made your customers feel.


  1. Belle Beth Cooper, “Novelty and the Brain: Why New Things Make Us Feel So Good,”, 2013.
  2. Robert McKee and Thomas Gerace, Storynomics: Story-Driven Marketing in the Post-Advertising World, 2018.
  3. Ibid.
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