The vexed issue of ad frequency, the topic of this month’s Admap, has become more problematic with the proliferation of channels, shorter attention spans and active ad avoidance by consumers.
The question of how many exposures are required to trigger a response found an answer of sorts in the early 1970s: three, with the greatest impact coming from the first one. But this figure related to “psychological” exposures which need not correlate to actual exposures.
“The tenth actual exposure might be the first psychologically (because the consumer wasn’t in the market for the product earlier),” says Chris Sloane, senior partner at Gain Theory. “This was crucial, and arguably ill-understood: three by itself, was never the magic number.”
By the mid-90s, “recency planning” was gaining ground and found its fullest expression more than a decade later in the work of the Ehrenberg Bass Institute for which “reach is more important than frequency of exposure; continuous advertising is more effective than bursts followed by long gaps”.
Gain Theory’s own research showed the relative effectiveness per GRP was greatest for those schedules where response decreases as each additional exposure is added. And when an ad avoidance metric was introduced – based on Byron Sharp’s benchmark that 80% of TV ads are ignored or incorrectly branded – there were seen to be potential benefits to a slightly higher frequency.
“We would argue that testing the shape of the response is important, particularly for newer brands or categories,” Sloane advises.
“(But) even if the first exposure is best, how much better is it?
Source: Sloane, C. (2019, March 5). The ad frequency debate: what works best? WARC.
The advertising industry is fighting fires on multiple fronts as it attempts to deal with issues affecting consumer trust while neglecting the one issue over which it has complete control, according to Direct Line’s Mark Evans.
“It (the issue of frequency) has been overshadowed by louder conversations and yet over-serving of advertising, or ‘bombardment’ to give it a catchy title, is one of the key drivers of mistrust and also creates significant wastage of spend,” he says – resulting in a lose-lose scenario.
For consumers, one of the most annoying aspects of this is retargeting, as they are followed around the internet by an item that they have already bought. “It’s the repetition that niggles people, but to add injury to insult that extra unwarranted frequency also incurs cost,” Evans points out.
Nor is this issue restricted to digital media channels. “Any media channel will produce a normal distribution of opportunities to see or hear, and with traditional media increasingly moving towards programmatic retargeted buying, the issue is only likely to get worse.”
Repetition may drive recall, but this is difficult to optimise against campaign goals across a messy cross-platform media landscape, says Evans, and clients end up paying for inventory which is not delivering results and is potentially even counter-productive.
“If we could isolate this ‘wastage cost’ it would be transformative from an economic perspective but also would also help to lance the trust boil,” he maintains.
He proposes campaigns have cross-platform frequency caps: if frequency is exceeded, the campaign wouldn’t be judged as a success and the wasted spend would be transparent.
Source: Evans, M. (2019, March 7). Ad frequency – the issue no-one is talking about. WARC.
Editor’s Note: Two articles on a critical topic that remains controversial.