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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

How Much Frequency is Enough, 2014?

For decades ad professionals have debated or at least considered how much repetition of a message is necessary to break through with the consumer. Thoughtful people have always felt that there is a threshold level below which nothing will happen to the sales needle. This low level of spending will be largely wasted funds. At the other end of the spectrum, people have struggled to define the upper limit of effective repetitions, as invariably, you get to a point where each message is progressively less effective than the last.

I have always been intrigued how the nuances of copy or art direction could trigger long and heated arguments. Decisions on various aspects of media scheduling were largely left to a media planner perhaps in the business only a few years. They were sincere but often served up decades old pablum as their rationale for weight levels and scheduling tactics.

In the 1970’s we had Krugman’s “three-hit” theory followed by Achenbaum’s “pattern of the frequency distribution where the optimum or heart of the distribution was to reach people 3-10 times during a purchase cycle.

The year 1979 The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) published “Effective Frequency”, which did a very nice job of summing up the existing research. In 1993, they revisited the topic with “Advertising Reach & Frequency.” Several years later, the Colin McDonald study appeared which said that two exposures in a purchase cycle was optimal.

In the 1990’s the concept of Recency came along which encouraged lower weight levels  but keeping your name in front of people as close to the time of purchase as possible.

Okay. Since then, we have not seen a great deal of new research in terms of effective frequency despite the reality that the advertising landscape has changed forever. For a decade, I have been encouraging many advertisers, particularly retailers to increase weight levels in every flight of TV advertising as ADVERTISING AVOIDANCE is getting higher and higher. Keep in mind that DVR’s did not exist when many of these oft quoted research studies were done, remotes had about 6% penetration, and the internet was unknown even to Al Gore.

Some TV data is out there based on the large Set Top Box sample and it indicates that commercial avoidance is huge, even in high profile events like sports, due to channel hopping during commercials. So, to get the two or three exposures needed 20 years ago, you may need to provide 12-15 EXPOSURE OPPORTUNITIES.

This can be a tough sell. Cash strapped clients claim that agencies are simply after more money for TV, Radio, and Magazine. And, they get great sales and often demographic feedback from their online efforts and the reports get stronger all the time. Why, they ask, should they spend so much on conventional media when impact is such a crapshoot?

Media mix has always been a murky area in terms of determining effective frequency as each media type was measured differently and most people relied on a sophomoric formula to project it which in no way took in to account the nuances of each media type in the mix. Did Radio and Outdoor blend the same way that TV and Magazine did? The formula did not differentiate between them.

Much research needs to be done in this arena that is in tune with the media habits of the 21st century and specifically, 2014 and beyond. Unless it is undertaken, billions will continue to be wasted and many mid-sized advertisers will get crushed as their limited funds are not spent properly.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you can reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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