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Rethinking Repetition in Nonprofit Marketing

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Published October 27, 2014 Reading Time: 4 minutes

Repetition is an important tool in advertising, learning, and persuasion. We use it to make a point, to remember important details, and to convince others. It’s no surprise then that repetition is a natural component of marketing.

It’s important to remember, however, that repetition can be off-putting when it is used poorly. For example, have you ever vowed not to buy a product because their repetitive advertising is so annoying? I can’t be the only one.

If your organization’s communications include a logo or motto, you’re already using repetition to create a brand identity. But how do you unlock the power of repetition in a way that attracts, rather than alienates, your audience?

In this post, we’ll explore the practical uses of repetition and discuss how nonprofits can use it to grow brand awareness and attract more support.

Say It Again

Does a popular song ever come on the radio and you find yourself singing along? Even if you don’t know the artist? Even if you don’t like the song?

You may not want to know the lyrics, but if you hear it enough, the words worm their way into your head. Advertisers and politicians try to do the same thing. Companies will use the same imagery and slogans over and over again to make sure that even people who aren’t interested will grow familiar with their product. Politicians will repeat the same principles and talking points in order to make sure you associate these ideas with them.

Repetition isn’t just useful because it helps people remember you or your organization, it can also build trust through consistency. If a politician covered an entirely new topic every time they spoke, voters might not be able to tell what issues the candidate is most committed to.

One candidate might make education reform her highest priority. But for people to know how committed she is to the issue, she will work it into many speeches and marketing assets. But she won’t necessarily copy and paste the same few sentences into each speech and piece of mail. It’s not about repeating particular words, but about sticking to a theme.

Developing Your Theme

So, if you want to use repetition as a marketing tool, you first have to settle on the message you want to spread, the theme. What are you trying to convey to the audience?

Some goals nonprofit marketers might be working toward are:

• Increasing brand awareness or letting people know you exist and telling them what you do
• To clarify the mission and programs your organization supports
• To transform your brand’s personality or mission

With your goals in mind, think of what feelings or images you want to be associated with. Let’s say you want to increase awareness of your food bank. The organization has been serving the community for more than 25 years, but you’ve never devoted much time to increasing awareness and reach. An economic downturn has made food banks an important resource in the community. You not only want to make your services known to people in need, but also let potential donors know you are a trustworthy way to give back.

Your campaign, then, could revolve around your long history as a pillar of community. In good times and bad, your food bank has offered help to those in need. “In uncertain times, we’re still here.”

This sends the message to the food insecure that you can help when they are facing hunger. But it also tells donors you are a long-standing community organization. Giving to you is part of a tradition of neighbors supporting neighbors.

With this approach, you tap into feelings of hope, vulnerability, community, and tradition. Once you know what message you want to send, however, you need to think about how to be consistent and memorable without being too repetitive.

Rephrase and Reinforce

Earlier, we touched on the fact that overly aggressive use of repetition can actually work against you. This often happens because the repetition was narrowly executed, meaning they repeated the same words in the same way over the same medium.

For-profit corporations don’t make one commercial and just play it on as many television spots as they can afford. They go for a broader, more holistic approach. Sure, they’ll air a television commercial, but that ad is just one in a multi-pronged campaign. The same storyline, idea, or phrase will be delivered through print advertising, billboards, radio spots, and social media. This way, the central message is repeated, but the slight differences in format and delivery keep the audience from tuning out or getting annoyed.

The goal of using repetition in your marketing is to present a consistent message over a number of communications, but that doesn’t have to sound like a broken record.
So what does this mean for a nonprofit?

It means settling on the message you want to portray and identifying the different channels you will use to spread it. Once you know what you want to convey, you can adapt the message and any imagery you present with it so that it makes sense for the outlet. You’ll have more room and freedom on your own website and blog, but you can also find ways to work the message into your social media, direct mail, email, and any paid advertising you might use.

Pencils of Promise, for example, recently executed a back-to-school fundraising campaign. The theme tapped into the excitement and spending that goes along with the return to classes in the fall. Rather than simply repeating the name of the campaign or a slogan of some kind, they created a variety of assets to draw attention to the campaign.

They featured the campaign on their homepage:

pencils homepage

And tweeted about how many scholarships were being funded:


And posted on Facebook about the importance of education


All these marketing actions reiterate the theme of the campaign and the organization as a whole. But instead of inundating you with the same text or image, they find lots of ways to talk about the subject.


As marketing evolves, new mediums and models emerge, but more traditional strategies can still be effective. Repetition is still an important part of publicizing and branding your nonprofit, and you can use your creativity and online resources to be consistent without being redundant.

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