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Effective Frequency In Traditional Advertising

One of the most important concepts in media planning is effective reach and frequency. This is about understanding the cumulative number of impressions your campaign delivers to an individual consumer. Too few impressions and your message won’t break through. The painful result is that your entire media budget has gone to waste.

What Is Effective Frequency?

Though you may think effective frequency is a modern concept, it’s actually been around since the very beginning of advertising. In his book “Successful Advertising,” written in 1885, Thomas Smith wrote a checklist of what happens each time a consumer sees an ad. While it has some proven concepts that must be taken in to consideration, it simply doesn't apply to the degree it once did in the digital age.

Decades later, advertising genius Herbert Krugman became very interested in consumer behavior. He wanted to know how many times consumers needed to see an ad for it to be effective so he could place efficient TV media buys for his clients. The research he conducted is where his famous 'Theory of Effective Frequency' for advertising was born.

The truth is that effective frequency falls somewhere in between these two widely adopted theories. There are three levels of exposure in psychological, not media, terms: Curiosity, recognition and decision. When you marry the psychological with impressions or frequency concepts, you can come to effective frequency.

In the following example, a small business has placed a newspaper ad in their local paper.

  • 1st Ad Run - The first time people look at any given ad, they don't even see it.
  • 3rd Ad Run - The third time, they become aware that the ad is there.
  • 5th Ad Run - It's not until the fifth time the ad runs that they actually read the ad. They have completed the 'curiosity' stage.

The number of ad runs for a target prospect to transition a psychological stage is approximately five. It's around the 10th time your ad runs in the local paper that the target consumer either, starts to wonder if they're missing out on something, or they ask their friends and neighbors if they've tried it. They are now in the 'recognition' stage.

Over ad runs 10 through 15, the consumer transitions through 'recognition' to 'decision'. And it's not until the fifteenth ad, that they start to yearn for it and they buy what is being offered.

Why does it take 5 ads before the psychological exposure needle moves?

It is important to remember that a single target consumer doesn't see each and every ad. Maybe it is because they don't read the publication daily, weekly or monthly; or, it's possible the ad placement is different from one day to another. Either way, studies show that consumers see an average of 1 ad for every 3 that run. We believe that this ratio is low because radio and t.v. have slightly higher effective frequencies.

What does this mean for small business owners? First and foremost, you should not hastily discount the traditional forms of marketing versus digital solutions. A well developed campaign with a commitment to run an effective frequency can yield far greater returns compared to digital. Second, you should not fall victim to 'unbeatable deals' offered by radio, television and print. In most cases, they are short run campaigns that don't remotely reach the most effective ad frequency.


Brett Salisbury, Xposure CMD

Blog post written by

BRETT SALISBURY
Brett has Serving small businesses, driving growth and profits for his clients, for nearly 20 years.

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