Keep your message from drowning in a sea of ads

Every year, we get asked the same question by many of our clients:

How do I get my ads and mailers to ‘cut through the clutter?’

The clutter–all of the other ads and messages that people see throughout the day that are competing with your communications for attention–is a very real concern. How you handle it will determine the success or failure of your campaign.

Your message faces intense competition in a sea of ads

Want to know what your ad or mailer is up against once you approve it? Check out some of these statistics. They’re

No life preserver is going to keep your message from drowning in a sea of ads. You need repetition, good timing and a message that interests your target to help your message stay afloat.

No life preserver is going to keep your message from drowning in a sea of ads. You need repetition, good timing and a message that interests your target to help your message stay afloat.


  • Various studies say that consumers see between 250 and 5,000 advertising messages a day, depending on the methodology used. There’s no consensus on what the “right” number is, but even if it’s ”only” 250 a day, that’s a lot of messages to compete against. That makes your message the proverbial needle in the haystack.


  • According to the Advertising Research Foundation, the ability of people to remember an ad they had seen just 24 hours before is worse than ever. Remember most of the ads, mailers and other marketing messages you encountered yesterday? Didn’t think so.


  • The sheer number of ads continues to grow. The number of TV ads run per hour has doubled since the ’60s. An hour of radio is often 15%-20% advertising. More space is being given over to ads on major websites. Even the volume of political mail has continued to rise.


As you can see, the competition for the attention of your target is brutal. But you can win. We’ll be covering a lot of specific ideas and techniques in the coming weeks, but here are some initial things to think about.

Give your ad enough repetition to get awareness

TV, radio and online ads begin to cut through the clutter when people start seeing them over and over. Each viewing/listening builds on the previous ones.

Your audience probably won’t remember your ad the first time they encounter it, but by the fifth time, the target audience is developing awareness of your message. At the tenth or twelfth viewing or listening, it’s burning in and the audience is starting to retain what you have to say.

With mail the same concept holds–with a twist. While TV and radio are running the same spot repeatedly for a period of time, you don’t want to send out the exact same mailer over and over. Instead, with mail you want to keep hitting the same themes and messages in mailer after mailer while making each mailer different to build that repetition so the target retains the information.

Advertise when you need people to pay attention

Campaigns routinely come to us with the idea of advertising or mailing months before the election as a way to avoid the avalanche of political messages in the run-up to an election. It’s almost always a terrible idea.

Remember what we said earlier. The ability of people to retain messages they saw just 24 hours earlier is lousy.

If you drop a piece of mail or two in August and then don’t mail again until October, by the time you do the October mailings, the audience has long since forgotten that they ever heard from you in August. The money spent on that August mail was wasted.

Don’t start advertising until your fundraising can sustain it on a continuous basis until the election–even if it means your opponent starts advertising first.

Good fundraising can get your advertising started Labor Day or before, especially for statewide and congressional races. For races with a more limited budget, that may mean waiting until the last week or two of the election to begin your messaging. But that’s the choice that makes sense if you need voters to recall your campaign when they go to vote.

Make sure your message commands attention

With between 250 and 5,000 messages a day being presented to your target, you ad has to be pretty impressive to command their attention. As you work through the production of your ads and mailers, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this ad interesting enough that it will attract the attention of a target that is focused on something else?


  • Would I pay attention to this ad if I weren’t involved in the campaign?


  • What’s in it for the target audience that’s so interesting they’re going to pay attention to my ad or mailer instead of whatever currently has their attention?


Address those questions and you will go a long way to getting your message noticed and remembered by your target audience.

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