The pain, pain, pain of repetition

It works for multiplication tables and phone numbers. If you repeat them often enough, the monotony miraculously translates to memory. Call it the flashcard principle, but this savvy third-grade memory trick is used by some of the best marketing minds in the business.

That’s right. Advertisers bet millions of dollars that sheer repetition will translate to truth for the masses. All incoming journalism students learn that the magic number is three – you want to aim for at least three impressions and ensure that your spokesperson mentions your product name at least three times. And with the absurd amount of advertising clutter we all face (the consensus on Google Answers seems to be that we are exposed to more than 3,000 ads per day), it makes sense that we have to hear something a couple of times before it registers.

But we do not — I repeat, NOT — need to be hit over the head with the repetitive frying pan.

The worst repetitive commercial I’ve seen lately is for a little product known as Head-On. The entire commercial consists of three repeated lines: “Head-On: Apply directly to the forehead. Head-On: Apply directly to the forehead. Head-On-” oh, you get the picture. And the commercial DOES make you want to buy a headache medicine, but not quite in the manner in which advertisers intended.

Another repeat offender is Citi Financial. Surely, everyone in America has seen the identity-theft commercial with two motormouth grandmas about 3,000 times. And it’s a great, entertaining commercial – until you hear the grandmas “brrrrrrrraaaaappp” / “No, it was all brrrrrrrrruuuuuuuupppp” banter for the third time in one commercial break. It came on today, and I literally leapt for the mute button. Probably not Citi’s desired effect.

And finally, I’d like to point out that we’re better off not dwelling on some products. It’s important to maintain that veneer of civility for the functioning of our society. I strongly believe that no one should ever, ever be subjected to absorbent diaper demonstrations. Or laxative commercials. Unfortunately, Dulcolax must have some sort of sweetheart deal with the M*A*S*H* syndication (either that, or my husband and I are starting to watch old people shows. In which case repetition may not be such a bad thing-.)

Go gamecock football marketing!

When the pastime of college football meets the institution of marketing, you can end up with a beautiful connection or a helmet-crashing sack. The results range from a cock-a-miniums and Steves-on-a-stick to enrollment increases and legislative support.

Next time you watch the ESPN pre-game show in your official Spurrier visor, check out who wants to cash in on your Gamecock devotion. It makes perfect sense — if you can extend fans’ unwavering support to your product, you never have to worry about customer loyalty again! Or so Applebee’s hopes.

The larger issue is how football helps a university market itself. Well-marketed football programs draw money, support and applicants to the school. As a j-school alumna, I would like to see USC harness the SEC spotlight for positive publicity and recruitment. Let’s get some camera-friendly events going, replace the drunken front-row revelers with friendly Carolina girls and feed the sports anchors some tidbits about the school itself.

I do have to give USC some credit for image awareness. We have a few recruitment commercials to run during games, and our team looks slick in those black jerseys. Perhaps most importantly, Spurrier’s visor never shows its wear and tear!

But we can do more. Our recruitment commercials should share our nationally ranked programs, showcase our research campus, highlight the beauty of the horseshoe and present our state-of-the-art gym. Our commercials must command the respect of the business community while arousing the interest of 17-year-olds. It’s a tall order, but we can do it.

We have some of today’s smartest ad/PR minds on our faculty, and our journalism program is consistently ranked among the top in the country. We just need to apply the marketing principles we espouse to the school itself. For instance, first-year journalism students learn all about the importance of cohesive branding, but I counted 11 distinct Gamecock logos during the course of the Georgia game! One USC Athletic Dept. official has a story about an airport hat salesman who refused to carry Gamecock ballcaps. The reason? Too many logos. We need to pick one Gamecock logo and stick with it. (Personally, I vote for the mean-looking talon-bearing midfield version).

A few years ago, journalism professor Dr. Sonya Duhé conducted a case study examining equally football-crazed LSU. Chancellor Mark Emmert used every public opportunity to link the school’s football prowess with its academic success. It worked. Instead of just rooting for the football team, Louisiana residents started to root for the school itself. They increased funding and sent more of their children to study at LSU.

USC fans, I give you a challenge. Let’s channel some of our competitive football drive toward promoting the school we love. Let’s tie our athletic victories to our academic ones. Let’s share the story of this great institution and make USC irresistible to the next generation of students, legislators and financial supporters. Go Gamecocks!

Strong (smelling) women

Sure, I’m a feminist. I expect equal pay for equal work. I don’t respond well to gender-based limitations. And yet, I still enjoy fluttering around town in pretty printed skirts. It works.

So normally when I hear the term “strong women,” I’m right around the corner with a “You go, girl!” I don’t even think about it anymore. It’s all birth control, Susan B. Anthony, voting and mini-skirts — I just have a knee-jerk positive reaction to any concept of female empowerment. And like any ingrained social trend, advertisers have learned how to exploit this automatic support for the sistahs. We’ve come a long way, baby.

I came to the realization that my girl power was being manipulated while I was watching TV with my husband Matt the other day. One of the new “Share your Secret” commercials for Secret deodorant twirled on the screen with a feminine giggle, inviting watchers to share their secrets and celebrate 50 years of strong women. And Matt started laughing.

Without even thinking, I glared at him. Hands on hips, I asked if he had a problem with strong women.

“No, no,” said Matt (he’s a smart man). “I just didn’t think women wanted to be strong in terms of their odor.”

Well, I felt like I’d been hit with Carrie Nation’s ax. I know I want to keep my underarm aroma meek and mild-mannered, right out of a 1950s etiquette book! And I had been completely oblivious to this major advertising flub because “strong woman” is associated with good things in my mind.

So I started paying more attention to women’s advertising. The Venus razor will make me a goddess for shaving my legs. Sex and the City will ensure my Tuesdays and Wednesdays are glamorous and fun. Old Navy will help me get my “fash’ on.” And America’s Next Top Model will let me follow my dreams — provided I’m at least 5’10”.

Now, my generation never had to actually burn our bras or fight our way into college. We just kind of assumed those battles had been fought, and we opted for cosmos, heels and “chick flicks” as symbols of our autonomy. We buy Secret deodorant and use Venus razors as means of balancing femininity with modern feminism. But at the end of the day, after sweating for our paychecks alongside our male counterparts, we have to wonder: how can such strong women still smell like baby powder?