Say It Again: Messages Are More Effective When Repeated

Research proves messages are more effective when repeated. Yet financial marketers abandon their ads, slogans and brands too soon and much too often.

Have you heard the following expressions?

  • Got milk?
    (used for 21 years, starting in 1993)
  • Just do it.
    (used for over 26 years, starting in 1988)
  • What happens here, stays here.
    (used for 10 over years, starting in 2004)
  • Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.
  • Tastes great, less filling.
    (used since the 1970s)
  • Where’s the beef?
  • Good to the last drop.
    (used for over 97 years, starting in 1917)
  • Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.
    (used for over 60 years, since 1954)
  • Breakfast of Champions.
    (used for over 87 years, starting in 1927)
  • Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.
    (used for over 43 years, starting in 1971)
  • The nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching head, fever so you can get rest medicine.
  • Head On. Apply directly to the forehead.
  • Don’t Leave Home Without It.
  • 15 minutes could save 15% or more on car insurance.

Depending on your age, many of those advertising catchphrases should sound familiar. Some you may have heard hundreds if not thousands of times. The companies behind these marketing messages had to sustain multi-million dollar investments for years and sometimes decades to make them stick in consumers’ brains.

In advertising, the term “effective frequency” is used to describe the number of times a consumer must be exposed to an advertising message before the marketer gets the desired response, whether that be buying a product, or something as simple as remembering a message.

Marketing experts like to debate the “right ways” to calculate effective frequency. Some say repeating a message three times will work, while many believe the “Rule of 7” applies. There was a study from Microsoft investigating the optimal number of exposures required for audio messages. They concluded between 6 and 20 was best.

Thomas Smith, in his book “Successful Advertising,” makes the following reflection on effective frequency:

The 1st time people look at ad, they don’t see it.
The 2nd time, they don’t notice it.
The 3rd time, they are aware that it is there.
The 4th time, they have a fleeting sense that they’ve seen it before.
The 5th time, they actually read the ad.
The 6th time, they thumb their nose at it.
The 7th time, they get a little irritated with it.
The 8th time, they think, “Here’s that confounded ad again.”
The 9th time, they wonder if they’re missing out on something.
The 10th time, they ask their friends or neighbors if they’ve tried it.
The 11th time, they wonder how the company is paying for all these ads.
The 12th time, they start to think that it must be a good product.
The 13th time, they start to feel the product has value.
The 14th time, they start to feel like they’ve wanted a product like this for a long time.
The 15th time, they start to yearn for it because they can’t afford to buy it.
The 16th time, they accept the fact that they will buy it sometime in the future.
The 17th time, they make a commitment to buy the product.
The 18th time, they curse their poverty because they can’t buy this terrific product.
The 19th time, they count their money very carefully.
The 20th time prospects see the ad, they buy what it is offering.

Now consider this: Mr. Smith penned this witty insight back in 1885 — over 129 years ago! Advertising was still in its infancy, but savvy marketers like Smith quickly figured out that “more frequency = more effective.”

So you still want to know how many times do you need to run your next home loan ad? The truth is: there is no single “right” answer.

“’Effective frequency’ might mean that a single advertising exposure is able to influence the purchase of a brand,” says John Philip Jones, a noted author on advertising and marketing. “But the phrase was really coined to communicate the idea that there must be enough concentration of media weight to cross a certain threshold — that there has to be enough of it before the consumer buy a product to influence their choice.”

There is one thing everyone generally agrees on though: messages are more effective when repeated.

And they are more believable, too.

Repeat It, Believe It

Fact: This sentence will become more and more truthful every time you read it.

Studies suggest that repeated statements are perceived as more truthful than statements made less frequently, “presumably because repetition imbues the statement with familiarity.” In simple terms: frequency breeds familiarity, and familiarity breed trust.

Similarly studies show that repeated exposure to an opinion makes people believe the opinion is more prevalent, even if the source of that opinion is only a single person.

So not only do consumers remember a statement that gets repeated, they are more likely to believe it, and think it is the popular opinon.

Reshaping Your Strategy

What does this all mean for bank and credit union marketers?

Few messages, more often. You should limit the number of messages you try to communicate through marketing. If repetition fosters both awareness and trust, you’ll do better working with a shorter list of messages communicated more frequently than the long laundry list of messages many marketers try to work with.

Beware of Boredom. If you’re doing it right — saying the same thing over and over — you will get bored of hearing yourself speak long before your message sinks in with consumers. In fact, financial institutions frequently pull the plug on their marketing messages prematurely. Whenever a bank or credit union gets a new head of marketing, a new strategy and set of messages follow shortly thereafter. Same thing when financial institutions change ad agencies; the new agency almost always abandons the work of their predecessor(s).

Stick to your script. You’ll have to fight your boredom (or your ad agency’s), because the temptation to do something new and different will always be great. You may try to convince yourself that “the audience has already heard what we have to say — they know this already.” Don’t fool yourself. It takes years for some messages to connect with consumers, and even longer if you’re trying to reshape perceptions consumers have held for years.

Rethink how you spend your media dollars. Would you rather get your marketing message in front of 30,000 people one time, or 10,000 people three times? Instead of targeting your entire customer/member base with the same message all at once, you’ll find greater success if you segment your audience. The process of segmentation will, in turn, force you to use better data/analytics when choosing the right groups to target (i.e., which 10,000 consumers should you hit three times?), which also allows you to tailor messages with greater relevancy/specificity for your audience.

Jeffry PilcherDon't miss The Financial Brand Forum 2019, the biggest and fastest-growing annual conference for senior-level executives in the banking industry. Join 2,000+ of the best and brightest in banking April 15-17, 2019 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Banks and credit unions that register now save $1,105.00 and pay nothing until next year!

This article was originally published on September 23, 2014. All content © 2018 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.


  1. You should also point out just how long these ‘simple’ phrases have been around. I had a board member ask me once why we couldn’t have a simple slogan like “Just Do It’ as it had only been around a couple of years and everyone recognized it. At that point (7 years ago) Nike had been using “Just Do It” for 18 years. The board member didn’t believe me when I told him that. 🙂

  2. Good suggestion Diva. Article updated accordingly. Thanks!

  3. Hmm this is very on point to the rule of sevens and similar to what Thomas Smith mentioned in this guide “Successful advertising” in 1885. Certainly, something well received and true. With so many distractions around us we need repetition to build awareness leading to familiarity and finally trust. I’m sure trust is more so important in any financial business than other industries. (know, like, trust).

    I think the online media space provides the opportunity for financial institutions to get their message out with higher frequency effectively for a lower cost BECAUSE as you specifically mentioned the ability to segment your audience more precisely. Reaching 10,000 – 3 times is better than reaching 30,000 – 1 time. With the online marketing space you’re able to track who have seen your messages on various platforms.

    Social media should be used as a support lens (for repetition) whereas search engine traffic and PPC can be a primary means because these are information lookers and higher buyer traffic percentage. Facebook is where you go once you’ve identified your target audience with a re-targeting pixel and be where they are. It’s like meeting a customer when they walk into your jewelry store and then seeing them at the bar while they’re slightly less defensive to sales.

    Back to your message, repetition is important and being able to effectively segment your target audience. Understand who you’re talking to and cater your message to their pain point, then ensure they see it enough times to remember you, trust you, and buy from you!

    I really like your message about finding few messages and pushing out the frequency; it’s effective and easier…sometimes simplicity is key. You made the point well when mentioning where people abandon their marketing message too early.

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