Blog: Frank Kenna 

Frank Kenna (bio)
President and CEO
The Marlin Company

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The rule of 3

This is a question we are often asked by our customers.  On one hand, if you change the content too often or have too much in rotation at one time, little learning takes place.  Conversely, if items are left up too long – a very common problem – people will stop paying attention.  And once they do that, retraining them to pay attention can be a long slog.  

So while there are many considerations such as type of message, cycle speed and length of message, how new the concept is, how complex it is and how many frames of content are being displayed simultaneously, there is one primary rule of thumb.  That is the rule of three. This rule is one I often refer to because of its simplicity and basic logic.  And while it was devised decades ago, before DS was invented, the idea applies to 21st century messaging as well as it did back then.

What this rules says is that you want to adjust your digital signage (DS) content so that the average person walking by it will see any particular message at least three times.  

This basic theory was developed by Dr. Herbert Krugman at GE in the 1970s when he was studying the effects of attention and learning of GE's advertising.* He broke the three-exposure rule down to these three basic elements:

The first time a message is seen the viewer thinks, "What is it?" The first response is to try and understand the nature of the content stimulus.

The second time makes the viewer think, "What of it?" and "Ah ha, I've seen this before."  This completes the basic reaction to the message with understanding taking place.

The third exposure becomes the true reminder when the message sinks in.  By then the "sale" has taken place and your message has been understood and "bought" by the viewer.  

Equally as important to the third exposure is that it's also the beginning of disengagement and withdrawal of attention. In other words, it's time to take that piece of content out and replace it with something new.  Once a person has seen a message more than 4-5 times, any further learning comes to a halt, and the piece is just taking up space.

This simple rule of three can be applied to any DS system.  Whatever system you use, just make sure to adjust the content controls so it will stay up long enough to be viewed an average of three times - and not much more.  This will significantly increase the communication, learning and engagement between you and your viewers.  

* Herbert E. Krugman, "Why Three Exposures May be Enough," Journal of Advertising Research, (December, 1972), 11-14.

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