Repetition & Commitment


Most advertising doesn’t work, and business owners know it, hence all the business owners you meet who tell you they’ve “tried advertising, and it didn’t work.”  These businessmen will usually blame the media they used; “radio didn’t work”, they’ll say, or “direct mail doesn’t work for our business”, or the Magazine isn’t good for their demographic, etc.
 
The three things they won’t blame their failure on are:

  1. Unpersuasive ads
  2. Lack of repetition
  3. Lack of commitment 

I’ve already written on the importance of strong ads (and will continue to do so in the future,) so today I’ll discuss the other two elements: repetition and commitment. 
 
Repetition
 
Unless your branding ads are reaching the same people multiple times over a long period of time, you’re simply not getting enough repetition. Without enough repetition people will forget your ads, forget your message, and ultimately forget about your business when they finally need what you sell. But beyond the importance of repeatedly hammering home a message, repetition is also crucial to harnessing the power of “The Sleeper Effect.”
 
The Sleeper Effect
 
The Sleeper Effect is a psychological phenomenon where obviously biased messages become more persuasive over time, long after the initial exposure. World War II soldiers, exposed to Allied propaganda films, initially discounted the propaganda as the obviously biased messages that they were. But when those soldiers were re-tested several weeks later, their opinions had changed in the favor of the propaganda.  
 
This became known as the Sleeper Effect and psychologists theorized that when we are exposed to obviously biased but persuasive messages, our conscious minds initially discount the messaging due to the bias, but over time, our subconscious remembers the message but forgets the discounting. This also occurs with high repetition advertising. Initially, the advertised claims are discounted by prospects as self-serving brags. But over time, we forget where we’ve heard them and remember it as something “people” say.
 
Don’t believe me?  Who told you that a BMW is a “driver’s car”? Their ads did. In the mid 70’s and on until 2006, BMW’s advertising agency Ammirati & Puris started promoting BMW as “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”  They didn’t do it with just one ad. They did it with ad after ad after ad, over decades.  By the 1980’s this slogan and positioning went from just what BMW said in their ads to what “everyone” knew about a BMW. 
 
And this brings up the subject of Commitment.
 
Commitment & Campaigns
 
Part of commitment is simply the idea of repetition over time. You have to commit to an advertising schedule that stretches into months and years. But the other commitment factor is the ability to advertise in campaigns. Campaigns allow advertisers to retain consistency and repetition but also to include variation. Too much repetition is boring, which causes people to “tune out” of your ads. That’s why you need variation. That’s what a campaign does for you. 
 
Specifics Vs Generalities
 
Because ads are extraordinarily time and space limited, you simply can’t cover every possible persuasive point in a single ad. At least not with any depth or drama. 
 
The wrong way to handle that constraint is to generalize: skip the specifics and jump to abstractions like “highest quality” or “fast friendly service.”  That shortens your message and ensures no one will actually believe or be persuaded by your ad.
 
The right way to do it is to create a campaign, wherein each ad focuses on, say, a single quality point in order to dramatize it. This is what we did for A&P Heating and Cooling in Sacramento. Instead of making generalized claims that our client does a better job servicing and installing AC systems, each ad focused on one specific thing they did differently and better than the competition. One month it was filling the system with coolant. The next it was designing the duct work. The one after that was why they insist on using expensive combustion analyzers on furnace tune ups. And so on, until, gradually, people came to believe that, indeed, our client really does do a better job than the competition. 
 
So the next time someone tells you their advertising didn’t work you’ll know the real culprit behind the failure.