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Say that again? How a study of music lyric repetition may inspire you change your speeches and/or ads.

“Dirty deeds – done dirt cheap.
Dirty deeds – done dirt cheap.
Dirty deeds – done dirt cheap.
Dirty deeds and they’re done dirt cheap.
Dirty deeds and they’re done dirt cheap.”

– Lyrics from the surprisingly titled song Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, written by Angus Young, Malcolm Young, and Bon Scott, and shockingly found on the album, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap by AC/DC.

“Ike for president.
Ike for president.
Ike for president.
Ike for president.
You like Ike.
I like Ike.
Everybody likes Ike (for president).”

– Eisenhower TV commercial and jingle from 1953.

Repetition is an important concept in advertising – and nothing new to political consultants. Media consultants and buyers often struggle to find the right balance between reach and repetition (a.ka. frequency) within their finite budgets.

Not that there is any consensus on what the right balance is. How many times an ad should be seen – and at what point excessive repetition becomes waste (what the “effective frequency” is)  – has been debated at least since 1885.  Ask anyone with even the slightest bit of marketing experience, and they’ll have a theory on how many times you need to say something to be remembered.

What is less controversial is the link between repetition and processing fluency – the ease in which information is processed and understood.  The more repetitive the information is, the more familiar people are with it, and it will be easier to get your message through.

Why is it then – if we so clearly understand the importance of repetition of ads within a media buy, that this same concept doesn’t get as much attention when it comes to the messaging itself?

Advertising and Rhetoric as Entertainment

Sure – politics can be boring, but it can also be a spectacle – a hugely entertaining, multimedia showcase of ideas and emotions.  Much like a musical act.

Yet for some reason –  many candidates (and their consultants) seem to forget to write a chorus or repeating key phrases/concepts.  They rely entirely on the frequency of the buy and not the frequency of the message itself.

(OK Lisa Loeb fans….  Sure “Stay” didn’t really have a chorus – but she did repeat quite a few lines including “you say” and “I missed you” and “I only hear what I want to” which are probably the only ones many of you remember correctly!)

As it turns out – there is a direct relationship between the repetition in song lyrics and their success.

In a study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology entitled “The power of repetition: repetitive lyrics in a song increasing processing fluency and drive market success,” its authors, Joseph Nunes, Andrea Ordanini, and Francesca Valesia show that songs with repetitive lyrics not only were songs with repetitive lyrics/choruses more likely to reach #1 on the Billboard Charts – they were also more likely to get their quicker and debut higher.  (As an aside, Dirty Deeds got up to #4 on the charts. A better example may be George Harrison’s “Got my mind set on you,” which stayed at #1 for 22 weeks and was extraordinarily repetitive. )

From the authors of the study:

“These results may also have strategic implications for marketers, especially when it comes to advertising text and product jingles (or even the use of songs in advertising). Ads that use repetition should be judged more positively, which may ultimately impact people’s attitudes towards the products and services being promoted.  We know of no work that looks at repetition within an ad, although work on repetition of an ad is abundant.”

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Dwight’s ad people knew this intuitively.  In the above referenced ad/jingle “Ike” is spoken 18 times in 60 seconds, and seen on screen over 40 times.   This was not a guy who needed name ID.  They knew from market research people liked talking about how they simply “liked Ike.”

A Kennedy commercial and jingle from 1960 sang his name 24 times and flashed his name on screen 95 times.

Many famous speeches have deployed a significant amount of repetition.  The Gettysburg Address, despite being only 10 lines, repeated “we” ten

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times and “dedicated” or “dedicate” 6 times.   More recently – consider the repetition of “I have a dream”, “keep hope alive”, or more recently “Yes we can.”
(“Yes we can,” – drawn from Obama’s 2008 New Hampshire concession speech, was, of course turned into a song and music video by Will.i.am and Jesse Dylan (Bob’s son) – and perhaps most succinctly illustrates the fact that if Obama could sing really well, he might have a shot at the charts.

PsyPology’s analysis

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With only 30 to 60 seconds to work with in TV ads (less if you include the disclaimer), repetition comes at a cost of substance.  In a well funded campaign like Obama’s, you might be able to afford so much frequency in the buy that repetition of the content is unnecessary or overkill.

For buys with lesser budgets – or at least with lower frequencies – some level of “lyrical” repetition would seem to be recommended to increase both the fluency and likability.

In speeches, it seems an obvious (and costless) choice to deploy some level of repetition – even if, like with Lincoln, it is done subtly in the repetition of words and not phrases.

Seeing speeches in the context of songs might help consultants walk candidates through the editing process a bit easier, too.  Candidates often complain at the shallowness of messaging in general, compared to the deeply thought out positions they have internally (and want to share).  However, if they can see the corollary between songs and ads/speeches, they might be more inclined to keep the messages shorter and with a repeating hook.   There is a reason that songs on the radio are often in the 3 minute and 30 second range.  They generally don’t need to be longer to be remembered.  We suspect very few could recite what else was in Obama’s concession speech – but quite a few could repeat the chorus.  Even those that hate him.

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About the Author

Brian Franklin
Brian Franklin
PsyPology™ Founder and Editor

Brian Franklin is President of Impact Politics and founder/editor of PsyPology™ - political consulting's first blog providing psychology intel specifically for campaign operatives. Brian has provided marketing strategy, creative direction, language development, and writing services to over a hundred political campaigns, organizations, agencies, and corporations. He has led Impact Politics' work for numerous federal, state, county candidate, ballot initiative, public advocacy, and non-profit campaigns, as well as ad development and online media strategy for  international advocacy campaigns.

Brian is a Board Member of the American the American Association of Political Consultants and co-Chair of their Technology Committee. He is the author of a recent feature article in Campaigns and Elections magazine, “The Slow Boom of Campaign Technology.” In addition to his leadership role in the American Association of Political Consultants, Brian is also a member of the International Association of Political Consultants, Society for Consumer Psychology, Behavioral Science and Policy Association, and the International Society of Political Psychology.

Brian's work has earned prestigious national awards, such as the Pollie Awards for Best Overall Internet Campaign, Best Overall Campaign Use of Negative Contrast, Best Use of Facebook Advertising, Best Use of Search Engine Advertising, Best Use of Humor in an Online Ad, Best Online Ads, and more. Brian has also won a Campaigns and Elections Reed Award for Best Online Targeting.M/div>