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Repetition principle


Principles > Repetition principle

Principle | How it works | So what



If something happens often enough, I will eventually be persuaded.

How it works

Play it again, Sam. Music repeated gets under our skin. Advertisements repeated replay themselves when we see the product. Repetition of things has a distinct effect on us.


Our brains are excellent pattern-matchers and reward us for using this very helpful skill. Repetition creates a pattern, which consequently and naturally grabs our attention at first and then creates the comfort of familiarity.


Repetition creates familiarity, but does familiarity breed contempt? Although it can happen, the reality is that familiarity leads to liking in far more case than it does to contempt. When we are in a supermarket, we are far more likely to buy familiar brands, even if we have never tried the product before. Advertisers know this very well.

Not scarcity

An effect that can happen is that repetition repeals any scarcity effect, making something initially less attractive. When I work with a famous person, my initial state of being overawed might soon be replaced by dislike of their annoying habits. With time, however (if they are not too obnoxious) I will probably get used to them and even get to appreciate and like the better parts of their nature.


Repetition can also lead to understanding, as it gives time for the penny to drop. What at first may be strange, after repeated exposure becomes clear and understandable.

This is important for companies bringing innovative new products to the market where users may initially unfamiliar with the product or its usage.


Remember learning your multiplication tables at junior school? We have to repeat things more than once for them to finally sink into our memories. Our short-term memories are notoriously short-term and can forget something (like a person's name) in less than a second. Repetition is one of getting things into longer-term memory and hence is a key method for learning.


Some people just have to do things several times before they make up their mind. Think about the last time you bought a pair of shoes. Did you pick them then put them down several times before trying them on. Did you come back to try them again? If so, you are in good company. Many people have to repeat things several times before they get convinced. Three times is a common number.

Sharp sales people know this when they show you something then something else, then back to the first thing a few times.


We can also get persuaded in a negative repetitive way. All children know that if they repeat a request often enough, their parents will cave in. Some remember this when they grow up and get married--the nagging spouse is a legendary icon.


As Pavlov discovered with his dogs, with repetition you can connect a cue or trigger with a selected action. This can be a color, a shape, a tune or a host of other things. The ideal that advertisers search for is that when you see the product in the shop, the pleasant or funny feelings that the advert evoked are re-awoken, making you somehow want to buy the product (and preferably lots of it!).


A core principle of music is repetition. It appears in runs, trills and stanzas, as well as in pounding rock rhythms and dance music.

People dancing in clubs and waltz-halls commonly go into trance-like states. Music, rhythm and repetition have a hypnotic effect that can lull people into following a pattern in unthinking ways.


Repetition is also a basis for trance states and is consequently a basis of hypnosis and hypnotic techniques.

So what

Use friendly repetition to create familiarity and hence liking. Use it to help the other person remember the things you want them to remember. And whilst you are at it, associate the repetition with a trigger that can re-stimulate good feelings.

Some people have a greater or lesser number of times something needs to happen for them to be convinced. Find out this number by discussing with them times in the past when they became convinced.

See also

Using repetition, Persistence principle, Yes-set Close, Saturation

Propinquity Effect, Consistency Theory, Sunk-Cost Effect, Persistence, Theories about memory

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