What can we learn from annoying, repetitive TV ads?

By Carol / April 11, 2017 /

Have you ever been watching your favorite show and wanted to throw a brick through the TV when the fifth Burger King commercial plays in the course of one hour? My husband changes the channel. I head for the kitchen.

As annoying as those repetitious ads are, I know the advertisers understand what I always told my clients when we discussed media strategy.

“You have to hear a message three times to remember you heard it at all. You have to hear it seven times to be willing to act on it.”

Repetition is key in advertising, memory, and art. This tulip is my second project at the shadow color stage.

This basic premise of communication – the importance of repetition – has come home to me in a real way during my pastel art class. I’m hearing everything in that class for the first time. Words I’ve never heard before, like “madder.” Theories for mixing color and building color. Even the names of colors mean nothing to me. Which is Burnt Umber? How does it compare to Raw Umber? Or Burnt Sienna?

Even though I listen attentively and take notes and try my level best to focus, it’s all new to me. Each time I step up to the easel, everything the instructor said disappears in the muddle of unfamiliar words and concepts and ideas. Hence the frustration I talked about last week.

At nine weeks into the class, however, a light switch flicked in my brain. I realized that one rule of pastels was firmly embedded. That rule is this: “The shadow colors are the complements of the local color.”

Those of you with an art background understand this. To those of you without an art background, the idea may be as Greek to you as it was to me. Don’t worry, it’s the point that matters.

Here’s the point. From the very first class, the instructor commented over and over about shadow colors. After he said it three times, I admit I remember hearing him say it. But it was only after he’d repeated the message several more times, after I’d tried it on my own (and erred), and done it again, only then could I say I owned that concept and could act on it in the future with reasonable confidence.

Last week I stepped away from my easel and joined the instructor where he sat keeping all of our easels in view. “I get it about the shadow colors,” I said. “You must have said it seven times.” He smiled.

As annoying as the Burger King ads are, I get it. I’ve heard them so often I’m ready to act. You notice that when they came on, I headed to the kitchen.


What’s your experience with repeating messages until they sink in? With your kids? Your spouse? Your writing? Yourself?

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  1. Sharon Lippincott on April 11, 2017 at 9:26 pm

    Well now. Fifty some years of marriage and now you tell me that it’s okay he doesn’t get it the fourth time I tell him? I still have three more to go? Sigh. By then we’ll both be oblivious anyway. Just kidding. I’m going to be chewing on this message for a long time, milking its meaning for me as a teacher, a writer, a spouse and a friend.

    Now I’m wondering if I really have to LISTEN seven times when I get it after two?

    • Carol Bodensteiner on April 12, 2017 at 10:37 am

      That’s a comment many of us who are married can relate to, Sharon. Merril makes a good point in her comment. We do have to be receptive to the message for it to work. Which reminds me of another thing in favor of repetitive communication. Everyone isn’t in the market for a product at the same time. If I’m not looking for a new car, all those car ads sail right on by. Unless one is a car nut or in the car business, in which case all car ads are endlessly interesting. For the rest of us, we generally don’t pay attention unless we’re thinking about buying anyway.

      I’m sure the ‘three times – seven times’ concept is an average. You might get it after two and not have to listen again. Or in listening additional times, you might understand the message differently or more personally or something else because we’re all human and all different. That’s what makes communication so interesting to me.

  2. Elfrieda NEUFELD SCHROEDER on April 11, 2017 at 11:49 pm

    I love the colors in your painting but I’m seeing a pansy, not a tulip! Why is that?

    • Carol Bodensteiner on April 12, 2017 at 10:41 am

      The colors are totally unlike what I’d have used if I were not taking this class. More learning and more fun.

      You may see a pansy because the shadow colors are more the color of pansies than tulips or because the shadow pattern is shaped more like a pansy. As I’ve added additional layers of color, the image is becoming more tulip-ish. On the other hand, maybe it will always look like a pansy to you. Part of the beauty of art – the viewer may take away something completely different than the artist intended. I’ll post another picture as the image moves to completion.

  3. Merril Smith on April 12, 2017 at 6:37 am

    My husband and I usually record shows, watch them later, and fast forward through the commercials. 🙂

    I understand your point about it taking several hearings for a message to sink in, but I think you have to be receptive to it. In doing your artwork, I think it’s a mind-body connection, too? Or learning a new way to perceive the world? You could hear the words, but they were meaningless until you could experience what it meant by doing it.

    And brava for your efforts and sticking with it

    I do remember daughters saying they didn’t realize all the work that went into hosting a family dinner/celebration until they did it themselves.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on April 12, 2017 at 10:54 am

      The ability to record and skip past commercials creates a real challenge for advertisers. My husband and I don’t have the recording ability, so we’re frequently analyzing the meaning behind the ads.

      You are on point with all of your suggestions. We do need to be receptive. Or if the message is one we disagree with, the repetition may simply reinforce our own position. Happens in political advertising all the time. The mind-body connection was definitely at play with my art. On the tulip, I put down the wrong shadow colors the first time because I hadn’t understood/internalized what the instructor said. Getting it wrong and re-doing it was what cemented the concept in my brain. I’m familiar with most of the words he uses, just not when applied to art colors. So when he talks, my brain is scrambling to make the words mean something in this new context.

      Your daughters learned a lesson all of us who now prepare the family dinners understand at some point. No one who hasn’t done it really understands the work behind the meal, the poem, the novel, the painting.

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