The More Resonance You Have, the Less Frequency You Need

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Cover image for  article: The More Resonance You Have, the Less Frequency You Need

Market Research Hall of Famer Norman Hecht sent me an article reporting a Q4 2021 survey across Europe and the U.S. in which viewers once again predictably complained that "they see the same advertisements too many times when watching linear TV." It's unlikely that the questionnaire used the phrase "linear TV," since not many civilians know the term. I suspect from other hints in the article that the study sponsor might be an ad seller of CTV or some other form of addressable TV. In my 1990s introduction of addressable TV the idea of frequency capping was indeed one of my arguments in favor of the new form of TV I was trying very hard to push up the mountain.

Digital moved on my ideas much faster than TV did, but found that without coordination among ad servers, frequency capping doesn't achieve the goal. My 1990s company Next Century Mediasolved that problem by centralizing all addressable TV ad serving within its own platform, and one day we may not live to see, the same effect will be gained by all TV players having interoperable ad servers.

Ed Papazian left a comment on the article, pointing out that it's not just linear TV. All media fall prey to this phenomenon: The heaviest 40% of users of a particular medium are going to receive 75% of the ad impressions it delivers. Even in the future ideal state this will be true, and coordinated frequency capping will protect any one ad from being seen too many times, probably resulting in a lot of bonus spots to the largest advertisers for the ads not yet at their cap, used by sellers as an incentive to spend more with them, and a boon for the lower-spending brands.

In 2018 Nielsen and Kantar did studies like this more recent one, and that was the impetus to the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) getting together to plan the future cross-platform audience measurement system that will be burdened with the task of solving the problem of excess frequency.

The late Erwin Ephron was concerned about frequency problems decades earlier. His main concern was his perception of how much more important reach was. Since an impression can either add to one or the other but not both, he wanted as many of them as possible to go in the reach bucket. He was very familiar with media optimizers and knew that some of them (like the SCANS system I worked on at Interpublic) allowed setting minima and maxima in terms of the desirable frequency range. From his own experience he advised against this approach, saying that "anything you do involving frequency will get you too much of it, and that if you put all of the effort into reach, your frequency will come out as close to right as possible."

But what is the "right" frequency? Erwin's emphasis on reaching prospects just before they went shopping, which he called Recency Theory, led him to advocate continuity scheduling rather than flighting in bursts, since you "never know when people are going to go shopping."

A study done by Leslie Wood in the last century found that the last 48 hours before a shopping trip was the approximate interval in which to deliver CPG messages in order to attain the Recency Effect. Leslie's study also found that getting two impressions on households in the 48-hour recency window had a very significant lift over one impression.

Work I did at TRA and research done by Joel Rubinson, IRI and Viant shows that the date of individual household next shopping trips for CPG is somewhat predictable based on frequent shopper card data. This could be used in an addressable optimizer to lower the overall frequency by concentrating it in the predicted 48-hour window, which would make it practical to lower frequency goals for CPG, but not for the other product categories accounting for the remaining 80% of ad spend.

One of the world's largest CPG advertisers did a study using my company RMT's system for detecting the media environments which psychologically resonate the most with your specific creative execution, and therefore maximize the impact of the ad when it's placed in such resonant environments. The study, conducted by third-party researcher 605 using set-top-box data and 23,000 completed interviews, showed that you didn't need as much frequency if you used environments which mirrored at least 30% of the psychological qualities of the ad creative.

About 7500 of the respondents had been in the low frequency tercile and received an average of seven exposures across the 15-week campaign. When that low frequency group was split into those who had received no exposures of at least 30% resonance, versus those who had received at least one exposure at 30% or above resonance, the differences were dramatic: Purchase Intent Lift averaged -5% in the "No 30%+ Exposures" group, +25% in the "Yes 30%+ Exposures" group. First Brand Mention ("Saliency", in response to "When you think of [product category], which brands come to mind?") was lifted +8% in the "No 30%+ Exposures" group, +62% in the "Yes 30%+ Exposures" group.

Brands in all product categories can cut back on frequency in general, while increasing target reach and ROI/brand growth, by leveraging context resonance.

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