In advertising, the term ‘effective frequency’ describes the number of times a person must be exposed to an ad before responding. Although he didn’t use the term effective frequency, Thomas Smith, London businessman and author of ‘A Guide to Successful Advertising’ (1885), observed that it usually took twenty attempts to gain a new customer with an ad:

The first time people look at any given ad, they don’t even see it.
The second time, they don’t notice it.
The third time, they are aware that it is there.
The fourth time, they have a fleeting sense that they’ve seen it somewhere before.
The fifth time, they actually read the ad.
The sixth time they thumb their nose at it.
The seventh time, they start to get a little irritated with it.
The eighth time, they start to think, “Here’s that confounded ad again.”
The ninth time, they start to wonder if they’re missing out on something.
The tenth time, they ask their friends and neighbors if they’ve tried it.
The eleventh time, they wonder how the company is paying for all these ads.
The twelfth time, they start to think that it must be a good product.
The thirteenth time, they start to feel the product has value.
The fourteenth time, they start to remember wanting a product exactly like this for a long time.
The fifteenth time, they start to yearn for it because they can’t afford to buy it.
The sixteenth time, they accept the fact that they will buy it sometime in the future.
The seventeenth time, they make a note to buy the product.
The eighteenth time, they curse their poverty for not allowing them to buy this terrific product.
The nineteenth time, they count their money very carefully.
The twentieth time prospects see the ad, they buy what is offering.

The point of Smith’s slightly tongue-in-cheek observation is that repetition is integral to the success of an advertisement. (He even uses repetitive language to make his point.) You could go one step further and say that repetition is integral to marketing overall. Why is repetition so powerful?

Repetitio est mater studiorum (repetition is the mother of learning)
What’s eight times six? If you know the answer, you’ve harnessed the power of repetition, one of the oldest and most effective pedagogical tools. There’s a neurological basis to those multiplication flashcards you used as a kid: repetition transfers information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory.

“Talk to anyone well versed in learning psychology, and they’ll tell you repetition is crucial,” says Brian Clark, founder of “It’s also critical in persuasive writing, since a person can’t agree with you if they don’t truly get what you’re saying.”

You’d be surprised how frequently people don’t get what you’re saying. We all know our businesses inside and out. We all know our products. We know our strengths. And we know that we’re vastly better than all of our competitors in every way. It’s obvious, isn’t it? Well, no. Not to everyone else. Not to your prospects. You’ve got to educate them. They must learn. Which brings us back to today’s Latin lesson: Repetitio est mater studiorum. Repetition is the mother of learning. It’s up to you to supply your prospects with flashcards (figuratively speaking).

Repetition has a bum rap. It’s often equated with boring teachers and mindless memorization. “Of course, there’s good repetition and bad,” Clark clarifies. “To stay on the good side, make your point in several different ways, such as directly, using an example, in a story, via a quote from a famous person, and once more in your summary.” And you should go beyond words: use photographs, cartoons, songs, videos, webcasts, slide shows, etc.

“The more senses you engage, the greater the potential for retention and recall. Even having a bowl of just-popped popcorn or the smell of freshly-baked cookies while learning, can make a difference,” says former video game designer Kathy Sierra.

Can you recall a time when a patient teacher explained something in class for the 47th time and — Eureka! — the light went on? Maybe he or she chose different words, or used an image or analogy to help explain it. Maybe it just took a bunch of times to get it. The takeaway for businesses? By repeating things — the same message but delivered differently — you stand a much better chance of penetrating your prospects’ prefrontal cortexes and persuading them to press the purchase button. (Did you catch that alliteration? That’s the repetition of a particular sound in the first syllable(s) of a series of words and/or phrases.)

“Strategic repetition isn’t the same thing as content flab,” says copywriter Sonia Simone. “Repeat yourself for a reason, not just because you’re too lazy to cut pointless redundancy.” The wrong kind of repetition can annoy your audience. Worse, it can numb them to your messaging — and that’s bad for business! Again, be sure to mix things up while sticking to a consistent theme.

The ancient Greeks knew the value of repetition in oratory and rhetoric — they even went as far as to classify nine different kinds. Anaphora, for example, is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of every clause. Here’s an example of anaphora from Winston Churchill: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender.”

Here at Kutenda, we operate on a modified version of Churchill’s call to arms, and we suggest you do the same: “We shall market on the beaches, we shall market on the landing grounds, we shall market in the fields and in the streets, we shall market in the hills, we shall never surrender.”

P.S. It should be obvious that repeating a flawed or ineffective message won’t do your business much good. Effective repetition requires knowing exactly who you are, what you’re good at, how you’re different, and how you want to be perceived. For help on positioning, start with this short article from Bloomberg Businessweek: The Power of Positioning.

P.P.S. Repetition is the mother of learning.


2 Responses to Harness the awesome power of repetition, redundancy, and repetition

  1. [...] Faced with two false statements, side-by-side, readers are more likely to believe the one that’s typed out in boldface. (See what I did there? I used repetition as a rhetorical device.) [...]

  2. [...] Faced with two false statements, side-by-side, readers are more likely to believe the one that’s typed out in boldface. (See what I did there? I used repetition as a rhetorical device.) [...]

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