Zombies And Gibberish

Don't let bad repetition kill your copywriting

Human brains are fascinating. (And apparently, zombies think they’re tasty.)

When you read, hear, or speak…

  • Neurons fire
  • Pathways light up
  • Connections are made

The communication networks in our brains are so visually striking that they’ve been compared to mini universes. (I can’t wait for Neil deGrasse Tyson to host a special about the similarities between the universe and our 3-pound think tanks.)

But when your brain makes a connection, what it’s actually doing is translating sounds into ideas.

For example, when your brain sees or hears the word zombie, it turns it into the idea of a decayed corpse with a bloodlust for human brains.

The psychology behind communication is to take that idea and add other words with it to create a more complex idea. (Like every script for season one of The Walking Dead where Rick tries to escape those creepy bastards.)

Not really a fascinating concept by itself. But that’s where copywriting makes its glittery entrance.

Repetition (a psychologically sound principle for committing information to memory) is a copywriting tactic based on the rule of three.

To use it correctly, you have to repeat the same key points three times.

But there’s good repetition. And there’s bad repetition.

The bad repetition is called semantic satiation and happens when you repeat the same word too many times.

Instead of committing it to memory, your brain no longer recognizes it as a word. So your brain breaks it down into sounds again. Only it’s not the same sounds as before. And those sounds have nothing to do with the meaning of the word.

For example, the word zombie goes from zom-bie to zo-mbie or zomb-ee.

Your brain becomes immune to the original word. Flags it as meaningless. And no longer translates it into an idea.

This is why a seemingly normal word turns into gibberish. And it’s also why copy editing is bullet-to-a-zombies-brain important.

To use repetition successfully in your copywriting, you have to use different words to repeat the same three key points.

For example, turn zombie into:

  • Rotting walkers
  • Brain eaters
  • Reanimated corpses

Different words. Same idea. No semantic satiation.

Don’t use bad repetition in your copywriting. Zombies won’t want to eat your brain. They’ll run away like it’s poison. And readers won’t buy anything you’re selling.

P.S. Semantic satiation does have a positive use — it reduces speech anxiety associated with stuttering. Repeating the same words leads to semantic satiation, which reduces the negative memories and emotions that can be triggered while speaking. How cool?!?!