Image Credit: ANI/Twitter

There are no studies to say that seven is the exact number, but it has come to be a matter of conventional wisdom that an ad has to be seen by a potential customer seven times before it converts into a purchase.

I recently met a marketing executive who said that due to the clutter on digital screens, he advises his client to target an ad 16 times before it could convert into a purchase.

It happens to all of us. We end up ‘trying’ a product or service only because we see the ad again and again. Some years ago an ad for a travel website was found annoying by many viewers, but the ad blitzkrieg was so intense that even today I see people check out hotel and flight rates on that website.

We often hear that winning elections is not like selling soap. It is, in fact, a lot like selling soap. Among other similarities, making people vote for you needs your message to be amplified through the power of repetition.

Modi, Modi everywhere

Nobody seems to appreciate the power of repetition more than Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Since October 2013, when he was formally declared to be the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general election, we hear his name every day, several times a day. The word Modi is everywhere, his face is everywhere. Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore him.

The Bollywood team with Prime Minister Narendra Modi
The Bollywood team with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Image Credit: Twitter

This was a deliberate campaign strategy: ‘BJP campaign’ was replaced by ‘Modi campaign’.

To understand how important that is, we may remember the statement of former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. As chief minister, he once went to a school and asked children who he was. One student said he was Rahul Gandhi.

It is possible that even today you might find elderly tribal women in the forests of Central India who think Indira Gandhi is the prime minister. She died in 1984.

Owning an issue

In 2014, the Modi election campaign was all about “vikas”, the cliched Hindi word for development. Every politician promises Vikas, but Modi came to own it just by repeating it again and again.

The communication logic here is simple. If you keep talking about coffee, your friends and family will identify you with coffee. They’ll think of you when they see coffee. They’ll make small talk with you about coffee. Incredibly, they’ll even start thinking you are an authority on coffee. They’ll ask you all the questions they have on coffee. What’s the difference between dark roast and medium roast?

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That’s the power of repetition. In politics, the message has to be hammered into the voter’s head by repeating it ad nauseam just like a student learns a subject before taking an exam, including that last minute “revision”.

The wordiest of Modi’s slogans stick thanks to the power of repetition. South Indians found it difficult to pronounce ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ but you still had South Indian MPs referring to it in Parliament.

Trickle down over months

Repetition needs time, and hence a Modi slogan is given months, sometimes years to trickle down to the last voter through the power of repetition. “Aatmanirbhar Bharat” or self-reliant India started with Covid in early 2021. Only in 2023 has it been replaced with “Amrit Kaal”, the Hindu idea of auspicious time, the best time to make new beginnings

Actually, Prime Minister Modi first used the phrase “Amrit Kaal” in August 2021 but only in 2023 has it been bestowed with the power of repetition, and turned into an unofficial campaign slogan, a buzzword, or whatever you’d like to call it. It’s only because the phrase is repeated enough that people slowly begin to recall it.

The power of repetition is key to setting one’s own agenda. Now that the Modi government is talking often about Amrit Kaal, we know that that is what the Modi government is up to.

We often hear that education, health, inflation or unemployment are not on the agenda of voters these days. I have met opposition leaders who complain that if voters don’t seem to care about unemployment, why should they? Inter alia, they complain it is the media that is not turning these important issues into the public agenda.

The truth is that the opposition itself doesn’t use the power of repetition on these issues. If Rahul Gandhi starts talking about job creation every day then he — even he — could become the face of the unemployment issue. The unemployed, even if they don’t like Rahul Gandhi much, might start supporting him.

OPN Rahul Gandhi RAIPUR
Rahul Gandhi talks mostly about Modi, so it seems his agenda is Modi

Rahul’s agenda is Modi

Instead, Rahul Gandhi talks mostly about Modi, so it seems his agenda is Modi. This is true of the opposition at large as well. The problem here is that it makes the opposition come across as being interested only in displacing Modi and not solving the people’s problems.

If you follow Indian news even vaguely, you will know that Rahul Gandhi and his party are complaining about Adani, Modi, maybe democracy, and ‘hate’. Some months ago they were talking a lot about Bharat Jodo Yatra and five years ago they were talking about Rafale and had a slogan, ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’.

That’s public memory about the Congress party because those are the words they have been repeating. We are what we repeat.

If you talk to India’s unemployed youth, they complain that nobody is raising their concerns. If you talk to politicians they complain that unemployed youth don’t really care about their issues. Only one of these can be correct.

If opposition parties used the word ‘unemployment’ more often than they use the word ‘Modi’, this alone might start winning them a few seats.