How Much Repetition Does an Advertiser Need?


    Wanamaker's Clothing House in Philadelphia, c. 1876

    "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." - entrepreneur and marketer John Wanamaker (1838-1922)

    Wanamaker's quote on advertising has been widely disseminated. It's inspired some to bold risk-taking and marketing breakthroughs—"nothing ventured, nothing gained." For others, it's been little more than a bromide to justify laziness and complacency in advertising.

    Wanamaker, a practicing Christian, refused to advertise on Sundays. His newspaper ads were widely believed to be factual and trustworthy. He also guaranteed the quality of his advertised merchandise in print, allowing customers to return unsatisfactory purchases for a cash refund.

    Just like Costco, Amazon, WalMart, Nordstrom's, and other successful merchants do today.

    An innovator, his department store was the first to provide an in-store restaurant, and he even installed in it a magnificent pipe organ, which attracted throngs to the free concerts he provided. The organ is still in regular use at the Macy's Department Store that occupies the location of the original Wanamaker's in Philadelphia.

    Meanwhile in England, a contemporary of Wanamaker's, Thomas Smith, wrote a book called Successful Advertising. It contained this now white-haired explanation of the need for repeated exposure to advertising in order to achieve success:

    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.

    In Smith's day, newspaper and magazines were the only mass-media advertising available to merchants. Radio, television, the internet, and a plethora of lesser-reach advertising choices abound today.  Whichever medium or media you choose, the question remains: how often should your advertising message be repeated?

    If the message is strong and the timing and audience are ripe, once may be sufficient. A timely Facebook post might be enough to get a few dozen folks to take advantage of your dinner special.

    But if the message is strong and the timing and audience are ripe, it also may be repeated successfully for decades, as in the case of the classic Maxwell Sackheim/Victor Schwab "Do You Make These Mistakes in English? ads for Sherwin Cody's English home study course.

    The same holds true of the many jingles and slogans that have been woven into the fabric of our lives. They've been repeated so often, we've got them memorized, though we expended no effort to do so.

    It shouldn't be a stretch for you to fill in the blanks below with the name of the advertiser.

    "_________________________. When you care enough to send the very best." - used continuously since 1944, it was created by one of the company's salesmen on an index card

    "__________________. Fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent or more on car insurance." - one of radio's top advertisers.

    "More saving, More doing. That's the power of the _____________________________." - another of radio's top advertisers.

    I'll bet we could come up with a hundred more pretty quickly.

    Repetition is vital to most successful advertising. To paraphrase Roy H. Williams:

    • Repetition is the hammer that drives the nail (your message) ever deeper into the mind of your customer.
    • Repetition is necessary because sleep is the great eraser of advertising.
    • People stay "sold" like grass stays "mowed." You need to keep at it, keep at it, and keep at it.

    This is why one of my longtime clients hasn't changed their ad in over 25 years. It's a singing ad. The music production company provided the tune and the singer, I wrote the lyrics. And just for the record, the reason the ad never changes isn't because we're lazy; it's because the advertisement is still getting results for them. Skeptical? Call and ask them how they know it's working.

    How's your advertising working?

    If you can use some help, it's as close as your phone.


  • Rebecca Hunt likes this
  • Bill Turner
    Bill Turner Wonderful article and so very true. Too much emphasis is placed on selling promotions and price and item when what the most compelling message we can communicate is reinforcing the power of top of mind awareness. I talk to lots of non-commercial FMs who seem to get bogged down in writing the aired message. I tell them they offer top of mind awareness and a business should be placing an audio business card in listener's ears frequently that says what they want to be known for. What you describe here is the most important factor in advertising and we tend to obscure it with other advertising options. In my book,it's the cake and everything else is simply the icing.
    August 3, 2018 - 2 like this
  • Bill Turner
    Bill Turner To keep the name out there I like selling news, traffic, weather and features to bolster frequency. Anything that pushes the business name and the words they are known for really helps get the frequency up there to remain top of mind.
    August 3, 2018 - 1 likes this