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-.)


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