Advertising Repetition, Memory and Attitudes

ABSTRACT - Previous research has suggested that the relationship between the number of exposures to a stimulus and attitudes is an inverted-U curve (Berlyne 1970, Cacioppo and Petty 1979). In the marketing literature, however, there is mixed evidence for this inverted-U curve. This study examines how ad repetition affects attitudes by examining the role of memory. A three (number of exposures) by two (time of measurement) between-subjects factorial design was used. The results reveal strong effects of exposure and time of measurement on memory but not attitudes. In addition, there was no evidence for ad repetition and memory influencing ad and brand attitudes.


Jennifer Christie and Thomas D. Jensen (2001) ,"Advertising Repetition, Memory and Attitudes", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Andrea Groeppel-Klien and Frank-Rudolf Esch, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 158-162.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2001      Pages 158-162


Jennifer Christie, University of Arkansas, U.S.A.

Thomas D. Jensen, University of Arkansas, U.S.A.


Previous research has suggested that the relationship between the number of exposures to a stimulus and attitudes is an inverted-U curve (Berlyne 1970, Cacioppo and Petty 1979). In the marketing literature, however, there is mixed evidence for this inverted-U curve. This study examines how ad repetition affects attitudes by examining the role of memory. A three (number of exposures) by two (time of measurement) between-subjects factorial design was used. The results reveal strong effects of exposure and time of measurement on memory but not attitudes. In addition, there was no evidence for ad repetition and memory influencing ad and brand attitudes.


The effects of repeated exposure to stimuli have long been of interest to researchers. Early studies in social psychology (e.g., Zajonc 1968) demonstrated that increased exposures to neutral stimuli, lines, nonsense words, and socially relevant stimuli (i.e., faces taken from a yearbook) resulted in increased preferences/liking for the stimuli. Berlyne (1970) also found that increased exposures to stimuli lead to more favorable attitudes. However, each subsequent exposure had less impact on attitudes until either attitudes leveled off or became less favorable. These findings lead to Berlyne’s two-factor theory, suggesting that during initial exposures affect is enhanced due to increased familiarity with the stimulus. At higher levels of exposure, however, a negative response or tedium occurs resulting in a decrease in affect (Bornstein 1990). Cacioppo and Petty (1979) also found this inverted-U curve, where message agreement increased and then decreased with repeated exposures.

The invertedU relationship found between number of exposures and attitudes has been of interest to consumer researchers studying advertising repetition effects, essentially in the context of wearin (i.e., more favorable attitudes following each subsequent exposure to an advertisement) and wearout (i.e., a leveling or decline in the favorability of attitudes after the number of exposures has reached some critical point). Generally, attitudes have been found to be most favorable following three exposures to an ad followed by declining attitudes with the fourth exposure (Calder and Sternthal 1980; Gorn and Goldberg 1980). Typically, any decline in attitudes or wearout reaches its lowest point at about six exposures; additional exposures beyond six have little impact on attitudes (for reviews see Craig and Sternthal 1986, Pechmann and Stewart 1989).

Cacioppo and Petty (1979; 1980) suggest that the inverted-U curve may be due to cognitive responses. With limited number of exposures consumers are simply becoming familiar with or learning the message. With increases in exposures, consumers begin to cognitively respond positively to the message. With further increases, however, consumers may cognitively respond negatively to either the repetition (Belch 1982) or to the ad and/or message (Cacioppo and Petty 1979). Hence, cognitive responses have been theorized as mediating the relationship between ad repetition and attitudes.


Ad Repetition and Attitudes

A convenience sample of seven consumer behavior textbooks and three advertising textbooks revealed that six discussed the inverted-U relationship between advertising exposures and attitudes (five of which indicated a linear or asymptotic relationship between ad exposures and memory). It was discovered to be a common assumption, as noted in the textbooks, that repeated ad exposures increase consumers’ attitudes toward the ad or brand. Nevertheless, the research findings suggest differently, at least for repetition main effects. While Cacioppo and Petty (1979), Calder and Sternthal (1980), and Gorn and Goldberg (1980) have shown some effects of repetition on attitudes and/or cognitive response, others have not found an effect of repetition for the same ad on attitudes. For example, Belch (1982) found no effect of repetition on subjects’ attitude toward using the brand or purchase intentions. Schumann, Petty, and Clemons (1990) found no main effect of repetition on attitudes, although they found increases in cognitive thoughts. Ginter (1974) found that neither overall attitudes nor brand choice was affected by repetition. Similarly, Mitchell and Olson (1977), Batra and Ray (1986) and Zhang and Zinkhan (1991) found no repetition main effects on brand attitudes or purchase intentions. Although some repetition may be advantageous for memory (to be discussed shortly), the results of any positive impacts on attitudes are mixed at best. Furthermore, while studies have suggested that repeated exposure to the same ad increases cognitive responses (and after a point negative cognitive responses), there is no evidence that repeated exposure negatively impacts ad or brand attitudes (e.g., Schumann, Petty, and Clemons 1990; Belch 1982).

Although reviews on the effects of advertising repetition and attitudes have concluded that there is some support for the inverted-U curve, the actual results of the studies are mixed. The varied findings on ad repetition and attitudes have lead researchers to examine the potential mediators of the relationship. Some studies have examined the effects of ad variation and/or product relevance as a mediator (Unnava and Burnkrant 1991, Schumann, Petty, and Clemons 1990; Haugtvedt, Schumann, Schneier, and Warren, 1994). In their study on repetition and ad variation, Schumann, Petty, and Clemons (1990) found that ad repetition assisted with memory, especially when the ads were varied as compared to the same ad. Varied ads, at moderate levels of repetition, resulted in more favorable brand and ad attitudes than repeated exposures to the same ad or to an ad viewed only once. However, at higher levels of repetition the differences between the varied ads and the same ads tended to disappear. These effects were shown for cosmetic variations (i.e., message arguments held constant while ad elements were varied) under conditions of low relevance and for substantive variations (i.e., changes in the message arguments) under conditions of high relevance. In other words, product relevance and ad variation moderated the relationship between ad repetition and attitudes.

Ad Repetition and Memory

One area of research that has recently emerged, and the focus of this investigation, is the role of memory in the advertising repetition and attitudes relationship (Haugtvedt et. al. 1994, Pieters, Rosbergen, and Wedel 1999). Unlike repetition and attitudes, the literature on advertising repetition and memory is quite clear. A majority of these studies demonstrate that increased exposure to an ad increases recall, recognition, and cognitive thoughts about the ad or brand (McCullough and Ostrom 1974, Schumann, Petty, and Clemons 1990, Belch and Belch 1984, Batra and Ray 1986, Rethans, Swasy, and Marks 1986). Memory for the ad, brand name, and information in the ad (i.e., copy) increases with increasing number of ad exposures in an asymptotic relationship (Cacioppo and Petty 1979; Cacioppo and Petty 1983; Schuman, Petty, and Clemons 1988; Burke and Srull 1988; Hitchon, Thorson, and Zhao 1988). The asymptotic relationship may be due to ceiling effects and/or to decreased attention to the ad for each subsequent exposure (Pieters, Rosbergen, and Wedel 1999). Pieters, Rosbergen and Wedel (1999) found that attention to print ads and the elements in those ads decreased by 50% from one to three exposures. Although some question exists concerning the ability (e.g., ad complexity, viewer knowledge) and motivation to process the ad (e.g., product relevance), some researchers have suggested that, at least for print ads, one or two exposures may be sufficient for placing the information in memory (e.g., Calder and Sternthal 1980). Others have suggested that memory may peak at about six exposures (Pechmann and Stewart 1989).

Effects of Time Delay

There is some evidence suggesting that although memory improves with repetition, attitudes will not change if measured immediately. Rather, attitudes may improve following a delay (Johnson and Watkins 1971). Haugtvedt et al. (1994, study two) examined the immediate versus delayed effects of ad repetition on attitudes. Basically, when measured immediately brand attitudes were more favorable for exposures to varied ads (both cosmetic and substantive) than for multiple exposures to the same ad or a single exposure to an ad. However, when measured following a one-week delay, brand attitudes were more positive for multiple ad exposures (whether varied or the same ad) than for a single exposure to an ad. Furthermore, there was no difference between brand attitudes for substantive, cosmetic, and multiple exposures of the same ad following the delay. Confidence in attitudes was higher for repeated exposures than for single exposures both when measured immediately and following the delay. Hence, repetition did impact upon persuasion and, importantly, attitudes were more persistent after repeated ad exposure.

Unfortunately, Haugtvedt et al. (1994, study two) did not measure attitudes toward the ad, nor did they measure memory for the ad immediately or following the delay. Pechmann and Stewart (1989) have suggested that following a delay after repeated exposures to an ad, "perhaps positive attitudes towards the brand are retrieved from memory whereas negative attitudes toward the ad [due to ad repetition] are forgotten" (page 293). Pechmann and Stewart’s proposition suggests that memory may mediate the relationship between ad repetition and ad and brand attitudes. It is possible that the presence or absence of any direct effects of repetition on attitudes may be due to memory.

One theory that might shed light on the potential relationship between memory and attitudes is the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) of persuasion (Cacioppo and Petty 1986). According to the ELM, in order for attitude change to occur a persuasive message must be processed via the central route. Determinants of whether a message is processed via this route are the individual’s motivation and ability to process the message. As discussed, previous research has looked at motivation to process by manipulating the relevance of the product contained within the ad (Schuman, Petty, and Clemons 1990). It is possible, however, that subjects are actually being hindered by their ability to process the message, rather than their motivation to do so. Given that motivation to process exists, are subjects given the opportunity to process and form thoughts about the ad? It is possible that subjects are not remembering the ad long enough to form enduring attitudes.

The present study examines the relationship between ad repetition, memory, and brand and ad attitudes. Specifically, we will seek to define the impact of memory on the relationship between repetition and attitudes. Our focus is on the effects of number of exposures to the same ad on memory and attitudes using methods similar to those used by Schuman, Petty, and Clemons (1990) and Haugtvedt et al. (1994). Ad repetition effects on memory and attitudes are tested both imediately after ad exposure and after a time delay. Our hypotheses are based upon theoretical perspectives suggesting the inverted-U curve (e.g., Berlyne 1070, Cacioppo and Petty 1979), previous ad repetition research findings, and the proposition suggested by Pechman and Stewart (1989).

H1: Increased exposures to an ad will result in (H1A) improved memory (i.e., recall and recognition) for the product and brand name, (H1B) more favorable brand attitudes, and (H1C) less favorable attitudes toward the ad. (Main effects of repetition on memory and attitudes)

H2: Memory for the product and brand name will be better when measured immediately following the last exposure to an ad than when measured following a delay. (Main effect of time on memory)

H3: Improvements in memory for product and brand due to increased ad exposure will be more pronounced when measured after a delay. (Repetition by time interaction on memory)

H4: Increased exposures to an ad will result in more favorable attitudes toward the ad when measured following a delay as compared to immediately following the last exposure to the ad. (Repetition by time interaction on attitudes)

H5: The relationship between attitudes toward the brand and repetition will be mediated by (H5A) memory for the product and brand name and (H5B) attitudes toward the ad.


Participants and Procedures

Two hundred ninety-three undergraduate university students participated in this study. Using block randomization procedures, participants were assigned to experimental conditions formed from a two (measurement time: immediate or delayed) by three (ad repetition: 1, 3, or 6 exposures) between-subjects design. Participants participated in two sessions of the experiment. Following the first session, participants signed up for a second session that was conducted at least twenty-four hours after the first session (delayed measurement time). Participants received a free product for participating in the first session and $5 for participating in the second session. [The product category from which subjects received their free gifts was systematically varied in an attempt to manipulate product relevance using procedures similar to Schumann, Petty, and Clemons (1990). Hence, some subjects chose between brands of pens (product in the target ad) while others chose between brands of candy or mouthwash (products in the functional ads). Manipulation checks for the pens revealed that personal relevance was not different when pens were the gift versus not the gift.]

At the beginning of the first session, participants were informed that they would be participating in an advertising study dealing with the ability of consumers to match print advertisements with the magazines in which they appeared. Participants were further told that they would be asked questions about their feelings towards advertising and their exposure to advertising media. As a reward for participating in the study, participants were told they would be allowed to choose a free gift at the end of the first session. Each subject’s survey packet revealed the product category from which they would be allowed to select one brand from a set of brands as their free gift. This product category was revealed on the front page of the packet, as well as immediately before the matching task.

After signing an informed consent form, participants were given a packet containing twenty-one numbered advertisements, and were asked to view each ad in order and select from a set of four the magazine it most likely appeared in. The set of four magazines was different for all ads although the same magazine may have occurred in more than one set. This matching of ads and magazines served as a masking task to conceal the true purpose of the study. Participants were told to work in order, and not to skip ahead or return to any previous advertisements. They were also told that some ads might occur more than once since advertisers often place the same ad in different magazines. After this matching task, all participants were given a filler task rating the frequency of reading the magazines from the matching task.

After the filler task, participants assigned to the delayed measurement conditions selected their free gift, one brand from a set of brands, and signed up to attend the second session. These delayed condition participants were then thanked and dismissed. Participants assigned to the immediate condition completed a questionnaire containing the dependent measures (recall, recognition, and attitudes). After completing the dependent measure questionnaire, the immediate condition participants selected their free gift, signed up for the second session, and were dismissed.

The second session of the study was held from 1-7 days after the participants participated in the first session. During the second session, all participants completed the dependent measure questionnaire. Participants in the immediate conditions completed the same dependent measure questionnaire that they had completed at the end of the first session. Participants in the delayed conditions completed the dependent measure questionnaire for the first time. At the end of second session, participants were given $5.00, debriefed, and then dismissed.

Ad Booklet

Each stimulus booklet contained three types of ads: test ad, functional ads, and filler ads. All ads were black and white print ads. Each subject received a bookle containing the applicable set of ads for the given treatment condition. A total of twenty-one ads, both single and multiple exposures, were in the ad booklet. Within the constraints that follow, the test, functional, and filler ads were counterbalanced in the ad booklets. Filler and functional ads were used to bring the total number of ads in the test booklets to twenty-one. All three types of ads were repeated a variable number of times, depending on the treatment condition.

The test ads, under the multiple exposure conditions, were distributed evenly across the entire ad booklet. Test ads were never seen consecutively. To control for primacy and recency effects, the last (only) test ad always occupied the same position within the ad booklet (position 18). The test ad (writing pen) was identical to the one used by Schumann, Petty, and Clemons (1990), containing the same product and brand information (see Exhibit 1). The layout and copy of the functional (mouthwash and candy) and filler ads was similar to that of the test ad. Memory and attitude measures were collected for the test and functional ads. The purpose of collecting the measures for the functional ads was to mask the test ad.

Independent Variables

Repetition. In the packet of advertisements, participants were exposed to the identical target advertisement either once, three times, or six times. The last (only) exposure to the target ad occurred in the same position within the ad packet (i.e., position 18).

Measurement Time. Participants in the immediate condition completed the dependent measures questionnaire immediately after completing the filler task during the first session and again during the second session of the study. Participants in the delayed condition filled dependent measures questionnaire only in the second session. The time elapsed between the first session and second session was recorded for each participant (mean = 72.14 hours, std = 33.38 hours).

Dependent Variables

The sequence of the dependent variables in this section is identical to the sequence in the dependent measures questionnaire given to participants.

Recall and Recognition. Participants were asked to list the products and brands they remembered seeing in the ad packet (unaided recall). They were then asked to circle the products and brands from lists of products and brands (recognition). Some of the products and brands were in the ad booklet while others were not in the booklet. For both unaided recall and recognition, questions about the product were asked prior to the brand. Finally, as a form of aided recognition, participants completed three multiple choice questions in which they were asked to correctly identify the brands shown in the advertisements when provided with the product categories (i.e., pens, mouthwash, and candy).

Attitude Measures. Participant’s attitudes were assessed for the ads and brands for pens (test ad), mouthwash, and candy shown in the ad booklet using seven-point semantic differential items. Attitudes toward the advertiser were assessed using five items (e.g., believable-unbelievable, unbiased-biased), alpha = .82. Attitudes toward the ad were assessed using ten items (e.g., interesting-uninteresting, high quality-low quality, favorable-unfavorable, good-bad), alpha = .91. Attitudes toward the brand were assessed using six items (i.e., interesting-uninteresting, pleasant-unpleasant, high quality-low quality favorable-unfavorable, good-bad), alpha = .93. Factor analysis for attitudes about the ad, advertiser, and brand revealed three major factors. Mean scores across items were used for each of the attitude measures for analysis purposes. As suspected, the attitudinal measures were correlated with one another.


For the results reported below, analyses were conducted for a two (measurement time) by three (ad repetition) between subjects factorial design. For the memory measures, logistic regression was used in testing the main effects and interactions. For the attitude measures, MANOVA and ANOVAs were used in testing the main effects and interactions.


For unaided product recall, main effects of repetition, Wald (1) = 21.92, p < .001, and time, Wald (1) = 6.35, p < .05, were found. Participants were more likely to recall the product category (pens) when exposed to higher levels of repetition (B = .38) and when recall was assessed immediately, as compared to after some delay (B = -1.37). The same two main effects and direction of the effects were found for unaided brand recall, Wald (1) = 20.56, p < .001 and Wald (1) = 4.81, p < .05, respectively. The interaction of time and repetition was not significant for unaided product or brand recall. These findings support both H1A and H2.

Main effects of repetition and time were found for product recognition (Wald (1) = 5.01, p < .05, B = .24, and Wald (1) = 24.29, p < .001, B = -2.98, respectively) as well as the interaction of repetition and time (Wald (1) = 8.81, p < .01, B = .53). Supporting H3, higher levels of repetition improved product recognition and recognition was better when tested immediately as compared to following a delay. The improvement due to repetition was more pronounced when measured following a delay than when measured immediately following exposure. The results for brand recognition mirrored those of product recognition with the exception that the interaction of repetition and time was not significant, p > .10. Increased exposures improved brand recognition (Wald (1) = 15.70, p < .001, B = .32) and the delayed measurement resulted in lower brand recognition (Wald (1) = 7.24, p < .01, B = -1.41). Finally, participants’ ability to correctly identify the test brand when presented with a list of brands in the product category (multiple choice task) was related to the number of times they had seen the target ad (Wald (1) = 9.94, p< .01, B = .36). The main effect of time of measurement and the time by repetition interaction were not significant for the multiple choice task, p > .10.

Since placing the brand name into memory is often a goal of advertising and brand recall is generally a stronger indicator than recognition, the data were re-coded to indicate strength of memory. Strength of memory was coded as a 3 if the participant recalled the brand name, 2 if they recognized the brand name, 1 if they correctly could identify the brand name when provided with the product category, and 0 if they did not correctly provide the brand name on any of the memory tasks. Memory was stronger with increased repetitions (means: 1 exposure = 1.25, 3 exposures = 1.55, 6 exposures = 2.13), F (2, 311) = 26.55, p < .001. Memory was also stronger when measured immediately (mean = 1.89) than delayed (mean = 1.39), F (1, 311) = 18.51, p < .001. Not supporting H3, the repetition by time of measurement interaction was not significant, F < 1.

Overall, the results clearly indicate that increasing the number of exposures to an advertisement improves memory for the product category and, importantly, for the brand name. Furthermore, the advantages of increased repetition on memory still exist even after a delay between ad exposure and tests of memory.

Attitude Measures

Similar to results in other studies (Ginter 1974, Mitchell and Olson 1977, Belch 1982, Batra and Ray 1986, and Zhang and Zinkhan 1991), no significant main effect of repetition were found for any of the attitude measures (MANOVA and ANOVAs). In addition, the main effects of time and ad repetition by time interactions were not significant. Unlike for the memory measures, ad repetition and time of measurement had no effects on attitudes and, hence, no support was found for hypotheses H1B, H1C, or H4.

Since the treatments of interest (repetition and time) did not impact upon brand and ad attitudes, additional tests of mediation were not warranted (Baron and Kenny, 1986). No support was found for the hypotheses that memory (H5A) or ad attitudes (H5B) mediate the relationship between repetition and brand attitudes. [Incorporating memory measures (i.e., recognition, recall, memory strength) as main effects along with the interactions with ad repetition and measurement time did not reveal any significant predictors of ad and brand attitudes.]


Employing stimulus materials and methods previously used by Schumann, Petty, and Clemons (1990), the present research examined the interrelationships of ad repetition, memory, and attitudes toward the ad and brand. The results of this investigation yielded strong effects of ad repetition and time of testing on product and brand memory. Overall, the results supported the predictions that increasing the number of exposures to an advertisement improves memory for the product category and, importantly, brand name. Furthermore, multiple exposures to an ad lessened memory decay over time more than it aided memory when assessed immediately following exposure.

Despite the positive effects of multiple exposures to an ad on memory, we did not find any effects of ad exposures on ad and brand attitudes. Unlike for the memory measures, ad repetition and time of measurement had no effects on either ad or brand attitudes. These findings are contrary to those suggested by Johnson and Watkins (1971) and Pechmann and Stewart (1989) and, at least in the case of brand attitudes, results found by Haugtvedt et al. (1994, study two) on the role of memory in ad repetition effects on attitudes. Our findings, as well as previous findings (e.g., Batra and Ray 1986, Belch 1982, Schumann, Petty, and Clemons 1990, Zhang and Zinkhan 1991), are also contrary to what is often alluded to in marketing and advertising textbooks. Repeated exposures to the same ad do not appear to result in more favorable or unfavorable attitudes toward the brand. The evidence thus far seems to indicate that repeated exposures to ads for a brand results in changes in brand attitudes only when the ads are different, cosmetically and substantively (e.g., Schumann, Petty, and Clemons 1990). The rationale that subjects simply are not remembering the ads long enough to form enduring attitudes (consistent with the ELM) does not appear to be true. The persistence of attitude change due to repeated exposures for cosmetic and substantively different ads, however, remains unclear (Haugtvedt et al. 1994).

As with any study, the findings, limitations, and need for future research related to the present study are intertwined. The use of students as subjects and the use of an experimental lab setting versus field setting have been suggested as disguising any ad repetition effects on brand attitudes (Pechmann and Stewart 1989). Another methodological procedure that might impact the results, and specifically the lack of any repetition effect on attitudes, is the procedures used in collecting the dependent measures and manipulation checks. The memory measures were taken prior to the attitudinal measures. In addition, in order to ensure subjects were aware of the ad and brand they were evaluating they were shown the ad prior to completing the attitudinal measures. Cuing the subjects to the ad and brand may have countered any change in attitudes that may have occurred in the delay measurement conditions. Although subjects’ attitudes may have become more favorable with the passage of time, collecting the memory measures and showing the ad may have sensitized them to the first session ad repetitions and, hence, may have countered the changes in attitudes that could have occurred due to time (e.g., sleeper effect).

Unlike in social psychology where increased exposures to stimuli (e.g., nonsense works, social issues/arguments, people) have been shown to result in more favorable attitudes toward the object of interest (e.g., Zajonc 1968; Berlyne 1970; Cacioppo. and Petty (1979), there exists very little support in the marketing and advertising literature that repeated exposures to ads, in and of itself, directly influences consumers’ attitudes toward the ad and brand (e.g., Ginter 1974, Mitchell and Olson 1977, Belch 1982, Batra and Ray 1986, Zhang and Zinkhan 1991). Rather, increased exposures to ads seem to have a positive affect on attitudes only when in combination with other factors/mediators related to the processing of the information. Factors such as the personal relevance of the product, attention to the ad, and ad variation (i.e., cosmetic and substantive variation) interact with ad repetition in affecting attitudes (e.g., Schumann, Petty, and Clemons 1990; Haugtvedt et al. 1994). The present study attempted to replicate some of the earlier findings and more directly examine the role of memory, as compared to processing, in mediating the relationship between ad repetition and attitude change. Additional research is warranted that examines the conditions under which increased ad exposures influences attitudes as well as memory and the role of ad repetition and memory in attitudes toward the ad and brand.


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Jennifer Christie, University of Arkansas, U.S.A.
Thomas D. Jensen, University of Arkansas, U.S.A.


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2001

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