In the News: The Power of Repetition

Today on Wired, Emily Dreyfus writes about the power of repetition.

Want to make a lie seem true? Say it again. And again. And again.

Now, I’m all about telling your audience the truth, but the basic principle applies to the truth too.

Dreyfuss cites the example of HeadOn (“apply directly to the forehead!”). Anyone who has seen the ad remembers it. And indeed, the ad was specifically designed to take advantage of the memory effects of repetition. And it worked, greatly increasing sales.

But there’s something else to keep in mind about repetition. Too much of it (like that HeadOn ad) can quickly get annoying.

In The Science of Speaking, I note that while studies have shown that the audience’s recall of a message increases with repetition, they have also shown that agreement with a message peaks at three repetitions. (Which is exactly how many times HeadOn’s slogan was repeated in the ad, by the way. But its ubiquity on TV meant that each viewer heard it far more times than that.) Too much repetition is simply annoying.

So in the end, I’d advise that if you want the audience to remember and agree with your message (and not want to smash your face in), say it again, and again, but not again.

Three times, as they say, is the charm.

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