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Repetitive advertising is a necessary evil for a lot of companies. gpointstudio/Getty Images
I've Always Wondered ...

Are too many commercials bad for a company?

Janet Nguyen Feb 9, 2024
Repetitive advertising is a necessary evil for a lot of companies. gpointstudio/Getty Images

This is just one of the stories from our “I’ve Always Wondered” series, where we tackle all of your questions about the world of business, no matter how big or small. Ever wondered if recycling is worth it? Or how store brands stack up against name brands? Check out more from the series here.

Listener Dennis Frey from Sparta, Tennessee, asks: 

Is there a law of diminishing returns when it comes to repetitive commercials? There are commercials which, because of constant bombardment, actually discourage me from even paying attention, let alone buying the product. Surely, somewhere out there in some grad school or business college, there are research papers documenting this conundrum.

Many TV viewers have certain commercials that they’ve grown to despise — maybe the ad has a jingle they’ve heard one too many times, the jokes don’t land or the marketing comes off as manipulative. There’s even an entire subreddit devoted to griping about commercials that you hate. 

Making people view that ad over and over again might seem like a bad use of advertising dollars. But for many companies, repetitive advertising is a necessary evil. 

“The objective of advertising is … to develop a long-term relationship with the consumer and the product,” said Edward Keller, a media professor at The City College of New York and curator of the George Lois Archives. 

And to achieve that goal, Keller said you can’t air the commercial intermittently. It requires repeated showings. 

Of course the concept of “repetitive” can be a subjective one. Maybe a commercial genuinely is shown a lot. But viewers might only notice they’re being inundated by a particular commercial if it’s one they don’t like, like our listener Frey. He said the law of diminishing returns doesn’t apply to commercials he enjoys, like Allstate’s commercials featuring the Mayhem guy.

Keller said people might dislike an ad if it’s not geared to them or if it’s just, well, bad, which he defines as being formulaic. 

“Most clients are afraid to take a chance and a risk,” he said. 

Ann Kronrod, a marketing professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, agrees that a commercial’s irrelevance to the viewer might be a reason he or she finds it annoying. She added that other reasons you might find a commercial irritating is if it includes too little or too much information, if you suspect or know the advertiser is lying or if the commercial is unclear. For example, a commercial might make a joke, referencing something you’re unfamiliar with. 

But even if your commercials annoy people, it turns out your company might not suffer as badly as you might think in the long run.

Kronrod co-authored a paper looking at how repetitive commercials affected a viewer’s perceptions of the company. The paper found that while people got more annoyed by more frequent advertising, that annoyance subsided over time. But their memory didn’t, because memories don’t decay as quickly as negative emotions.  

“This means that frequent mention of your brand name, even in association to a disease, will result in better memory for your brand while the negative association will quickly decay and only the brand memory will linger,” Kronrod previously told Marketplace. 

She explained that this happens out of survival to help us cope in life — we don’t remember every single bad experience we have so that we can remain sane.

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