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The Rule of 7

The rule of 7

Understanding its Psychological Underpinnings in Marketing

Not everyone knows this – but I started my introduction into the world of marketing through the channel of advertising. I was inducted into this world by a national newspaper, whose training was exceptional.

This is where I first learned about the Rule of 7.

In the realm of marketing and advertising, the Rule of 7 is a longstanding principle that suggests a potential customer needs to encounter an advertisement or a brand message at least seven times before they are driven to take action, such as making a purchase or engaging with the brand. This concept, which dates back to the 1930s, when cinemas first realised that it would take 7 points of contact with a film goer to get them into the audience for a screening. It continues to be relevant in today’s digital age, influencing strategies across various media platforms.

But why is this rule so effective?

The answer lies in the complex interplay of human psychology and cognitive processes.

Memory and Recall

At the core of the Rule of 7 is the psychological principle of repetition and its effect on memory. The more frequently a person is exposed to an advertisement, the more likely it is that the advertisement will be encoded into long-term memory. This is explained by the ‘mere exposure effect,’ a psychological phenomenon where individuals tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them. Repeated exposure helps overcome initial resistance and aids in the gradual accumulation of positive feelings towards a product or brand.

Attention and Awareness

In a world saturated with information, gaining and maintaining consumer attention is challenging. Initial exposures to an advertisement might not even register in the consciousness of potential customers due to selective attention — a mechanism whereby a viewer pays attention to certain stimuli while ignoring others. Subsequent exposures help the advertisement break through this barrier, increasing the likelihood of notice and engagement. Have you noticed this about yourself?

Trust and Credibility

Trust is a critical factor in consumer decision-making. Familiarity, facilitated through repeated exposures, fosters trust. According to social psychology, repeated interactions with a consistent message can lead to the establishment of credibility and reliability. The Rule of 7 capitalises on this by ensuring that the brand becomes a known, and hence more trustworthy, entity in the eyes of the consumers.

Decision-Making Process

Decision-making, especially in purchasing, is a complex process influenced by a myriad of factors including cognitive biases. The frequency illusion, or Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, where something that has recently come to one’s attention suddenly seems to appear with improbable frequency, works in tandem with the Rule of 7. This illusion reinforces recognition and makes the product seem more ubiquitous, potentially swaying purchasing decisions.

Modern Applications and Considerations

The Rule of 7 must adapt to the complexities of modern consumer engagement across various platforms like social media, search engines, and email marketing. With the advent of digital marketing, advertisers can now track how many times an individual sees an advertisement and interact with them in various contexts (retargeting), enhancing the effectiveness of repetitive advertising.

Picture this, you do a search for a new pair of shoes and all of a sudden every advert you see is for shoes …

However, the application of this rule is not without challenges. The risk of ad fatigue, where repeated exposure to the same advertisement leads to disinterest or annoyance, is significant. There is a fine balance.

Digital adverts

Understanding the psychology behind the Rule of 7 offers valuable insights into human behaviour and cognitive processes such as memory, attention, and decision-making. While the digital age has transformed how these interactions take place, the fundamental psychological principles driving the Rule of 7 remain valid. By leveraging these insights, marketers can craft more effective, psychologically nuanced campaigns that resonate deeply with consumers, fostering both familiarity and trust. As with all psychological principles, the key lies in nuanced application,  knowing how to tap into these cognitive patterns without tipping the scale towards overexposure.

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