The Zeigarnik Strategy: Addictive, Memorable and Attention Grabbing

by Josh Barney

What keeps gamers ADDICTED to computer screens when the sun’s shining? Soap opera fans GLUED to their TV’s every night? Your local barman’s MEMORY appear so good? 

The answer is no big mystery (it’s in the title of this blog), but what makes the Zeigarnik Effect so addictive, memorable and attention-grabbing? And more importantly…

how can we use it in Marketing? 

We’ll get to that in a minute, but before that, you need to understand exactly what this odd sounding psychological effect is. 

To do that, we’ll need to travel back in time to a 1920’s German beer garden.

Can you smell those yeasty beer hops? Feel the burn of the Berlin sun on your neck? Taste the salty smoked flavour of a schnitzel on your lips? 

If you can, you’re with us…

… we’re sitting around a table of students and research assistants, as they chat about recent studies. 

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The Zeigarnik Effect: Unfinished Business

One of our research assistants spots something an experienced waiter does, that seems almost inhuman to her.

This young lady’s name is Bluma Zeigarnik. 

She is just about to discover an incredible psychological effect, that will become the centre of over 600 experiments in the following 90 years. 

But, what she notices isn’t striking, or bizarre or prominent…

…in fact, it’s probably happened to YOU a thousand times. 

And if you’ve read this far, and plan to keep going, it’s probably got something to do with the Zeigarnik Effect in this blog. 

But, before you scramble back through the text looking for clues, let’s consider this almost ‘inhuman skill’ and see if you can come to your own conclusion. 

The Zeigarnik Effect: Waiter, waiter…

zeigarnik strategy psychology

This waiter was capable of remembering drinks and food orders, without writing them down, and then MEMORISING exactly who had ordered them. 

He did the same, no matter how many people sat on each table. 

Upon seeing this, the students and research assistants tested him further, ordering side plates and extras for the table, but the old waiter was still able to remember what was ordered and where to place the food. 

Without knowing that he was fast becoming part of a research game amongst these wannabe psychologists, they covered their food after it had arrived, and called the waiter back to tell them who had ordered what…

…it should be easy for him, right? 

He’d memorised the order and served it, all he had to do was recall what he’d delivered to the table minutes earlier…

…but he couldn’t. 

The Zeigarnik Effect: When It’s Over, It’s Over

Psychology marketing strategy

The waiter couldn’t remember what they’d ordered, because as soon as he’d served the final dish, the job was no longer UNFINISHED. 

In other words, because he’d successfully completed the task his memory checked it off his list and continued to the next one. 

UNFINISHED thoughts and tasks are highly memorable, addictive and hold tons of ATTENTION until they are successfully ticked off as FINISHED (when they’re chucked into the back of our minds to rot). 

This desire to FINISH puts serious POWER in those who deliver information, stories, and advertisements, because…

…the Zeigarnik Effect pushes audiences to crave completed narratives, resolved problems, answered questions and achieved goals. 

But don’t rush off and litter your marketing campaigns with tons of unanswerable questions because there are two Zeigarnik mistakes that can have the reverse effect on your audience. 


The Zeigarnik Effect: It’s Not Bullet-Proof

There are two ways that the Zeigarnik Effects can fail, and if you make either (or both) of them it will actually encourage people to stay away from your content, brand, and advertisements. 

They are: 

Overuse- if you’re constantly trying to use the Zeigarnik effect it will irritate your audience. They’ll never want to listen to you because all you ever do is lead them on…and on…and on…and on…and…you get our drift. 

The Let Down- you might be skilled at creating cliff-hangers, teasers and inciting all sorts of UNFINISHED emotions in your audience, but if your PAY OFF doesn’t create the same level of satisfaction as the need for closure, you’ll fail. 

These mistakes are commonly made by television series, who wholly rely on this psychological need for closure…

…the problem comes if either of these mistakes are made, which is why viewing figures (nearly) always wane as they enter their 3rd, 4th or 5th series. 


The Zeigarnik Effect: Where Is it? 

Psychology zeigarnik digital marketing

Now you know exactly what it is, let’s look at how you can use it.

We’ll start by examining exactly where we’ve used it in this blog. Writer’s call this trick ‘loop opening’, and it is well used by best-selling novelists, bloggers, and content marketers. 

These sentences are ‘loop-openers’ we’ve used in this post: 

‘… but what makes the Zeigarnik Effect so addictive, memorable and attention-grabbing? And more importantly, how can we use it in Marketing?’

‘One of our research assistants spots something an experienced waiter does, that seems almost inhuman to her.’

‘But, what she notices isn’t striking, or bizarre or prominent, in fact, it’s probably happened to YOU a thousand times.’

‘And if you’ve read this far, and plan to keep going, it’s probably got something to do with the Zeigarnik Effect in this blog.’

These ‘loop-openers’ are designed to make you crave closure. They don’t have to be questions, but they must CREATE QUESTIONS and UNFINISHED CLIFF-HANGERS.

If you are able to create similar effects in your content and advertising, it guarantees to increase the number of people that READ the entire thing!

The Zeigarnik Strategy: Use It!

zeignarnik digital marketing

You know what it is, you know what to avoid and you’ve seen WORKING EXAMPLES of it, now Einstein Marketer will explain where you can use the Zeigarnik Effect. 

Social Media- create THE EFFECT between social posts.  Ask questions, open loops and engage with your audience. A great example is posting regular updates about a continuing story, or journey that you’re on. 

-Content- use video, audio and written posts to create a thirst for PAY-OFFS. Longer articles will give you an opportunity to drag readers deeper and deeper into your content.

-Email Marketing- write a series of emails that create the Zeigarnik Effect, from one email to the next. This will massively increase OPEN RATE, and if done well, draw in a loyal following of brand ambassadors. 

-Advertising- use the Zeigarnik Effect to increase the significance of your product/service’s most prominent strengths. If you’re able to draw attention to your GREATEST STRENGTHS by opening loops around it, it’s importance will be MASSIVELY ELEVATED in your audience’s opinion. 

-Data- this point covers social media, content, and advertising, but is SO IMPORTANT we had to give it its own section. By using the Zeigarnik Effect to attract more people to your brand/blog/website/social profiles, you’re able to discover more about the people who it interests. 

By placing a pixel on your website’s pages, you can see the DEMOGRAPHICS and INTERESTS of the audience you’re attracting, you can then create LOOKALIKE AUDIENCES with similar traits for future campaigns, this means RELEVANT PEOPLE will see your advertisements and convert at a much higher rate, reducing the COST of advertising.  

The Zeigarnik Effect will also increase the number of people you can retarget (because more will be attracted to your brand), and if you’re an Einstein Marketer regular, you’ll know that people who see retargeted ads are 70% more likely to convert than those that don’t. 

The Zeigarnik Effect: In Summary

zeigarnik effect in marketing facebook audiences

Yes, it might be a lot to take in, but trust us, the best marketers in the world wouldn’t have got where they are without the Zeigarnik Effect (whether they knew it or not)…

…now you know what it is, and how to use it, IMPLEMENT IT. 

It might take some practice to perfect, but when you’ve got the technique down, you’ll see the results. 

And seeing as some of you are still sitting in that 1920’s German Beer Garden, Viet Glück und auf Wiedersehen. 

BTW: If that opened a new Zeigarnik Effect in you, it means good luck and goodbye. 

What do you think of the Zeigarnik Effect? Leave a comment or send us a message and we’ll reply as soon as our social media manager has figured out the difference between Facebook Messenger and Facebook comments. 

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Josh is the Founder of We Imagine Media, an award-winning content marketer, best selling author and creator of the He creates and strategises content, sharing the most successful tactics with his lovely audience. He hates writing in the third person, follow him on the social links so he can get back to writing as himself.

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