The first task of an ad is to be noticed. The second is to be remembered.

As marketers it can be tempting to stuff our ads with the features and benefits that we know our customers will value.

But there’s little point if they can’t remember them.

Confused copy with more than one message will make it harder for people to remember what you’re telling them.

Keep your message focused

When it comes to messaging, less is more.

There’s good evidence of this from analysis of Millward Brown’s Link database. You can see from this chart that the more messages are in the ad, the less chance there is of any single message being recalled.

It’s worth keeping in mind that these numbers are drawn from people involved in active testing of an ad. Participants are asked to sit down and watch – giving far more attention than during an average TV ad-break. In real life, we have to fight harder for attention.

So, single-mindedness is key to memorability.

Don't dilute your goal

But there is another reason to stay on-point.

Studies have found that multi-stranded messaging weakens not only our ability to recall, but also our belief in any single message. It’s a phenomenon called goal dilution.

When we’re told that an action can help us achieve several goals, rather than building trust in the effectiveness of that action, the opposite happens.

The more needs it claims to meet, the less we believe that any single need will be met.

Scope-down selling points

Evidence for this comes from a 2007 study by psychologists Ying Zhang and Ayelet Fishbach at the University of Chicago and Arie Kruglanski at the University of Maryland. They explored people’s belief that a lifestyle change (e.g. exercise) would bring about certain health benefits (e.g. avoiding heart disease, maintaining strong bones), when the list of benefits was varied.

The 97 participants read extracts from articles on aerobic exercise, eating tomatoes and giving up caffeine. The extracts included information on how each of these lifestyle choices may satisfy either one or two health-related goals (heart health alone, or heart health plus strong bones). They were then asked to rate the extent to which each healthy lifestyle choice would be effective in pursuing the first goal listed.

The researchers found that an increase in the number of benefits attributed to an action decreased its perceived effectiveness at meeting the key benefit by 5 to 10%.

In other words, if you’re told that jogging will give you a healthy heart and strong bones, you’re less likely to believe that jogging will help your heart than if you’re simply told: jogging will give you a healthy heart.

Prosecute single-mindedness

The goal dilution effect is important for brands deciding on messaging.

Let’s say a customer is looking for a safe family car. They’ll believe that a brand focusing solely on safety will reliably deliver it. But if communications highlight safety as well as, say, legroom and a flash entertainment system, then – even if these features are of interest – they are less likely to believe the safety claim.

Single-mindedness is hardly a new idea in marketing. But it’s surprising how many ads fail on this front. Now you have the evidence for this at your fingertips, you’re better equipped to talk round those clients who fall victim to message-stuffing.

It’s simple: keeping a sharp focus on one key message will make it easy for consumers to recall and believe it.