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Effective Frequency

So you are about to put together this year’s media plan. You have split budgets under different media vehicles as last year and refined the target groups. Looks great, but could you have invested the budgets better?
Lets say your budget allows you two choices – Should 100% of your target group see your ad at-least twice or should 40% of your target group see your ad at-least five times? Lets try to answer this.

The basic thumb rule of 3
The entire industry recommends a minimum of three exposures to your ad. This stems from the average person’s typical structure towards decoding information in three steps:
1. What is it?
2. What about it?
3. What about it, again? (reminder)

While there have been instances where the creative was so strong and well executed that three exposures weren’t necessary, It is still highly recommended in today’s cluttered world.

Effective Frequency
There are two schools of thought on Effective Frequency, and this does vary by category, markets, players and the objective and type of campaign.
In some categories we do see a threshold before which exposures are simply not effective. Individual biases could make the consumer ignore or reject your communication.Some campaigns have a speedy effect with every increase in exposure and then suddenly prove counter productive (watch out – this is most seen in extremely clever ads that people lose interest in quickly).
Effective Frequency and responses
However, there is some research which proves that one exposure per purchase cycle is all that is necessary, and that it is more important to have longer, continuous presence on air. This is however, a bit more complex as the exposure has to be timed well, just before the consumer is ‘ready to buy’ for maximum effect. (More on this ‘Recency Model’ later)

You must remember the following points while taking decisions:

  • While there are methods to calculate ideal frequencies, when in doubt, err on the side of higher frequency.
  • Effective Frequency is typically for the period of the purchase cycle.
  • The smaller your brand is, the higher needs to be your frequency.
  • Wear out of the campaign is the problem of the creative. You can relook at the same communication message in another medium if this issue arises.
  • Within a medium, there could be different areas that are prone to higher effective frequency requirements, such as, day parts (on TV), thick vs. thin magazines, etc.
  • Different objectives could have varying thresholds (increase awareness, increase recall, change attitude towards the brand, or to have an immediate effect on purchases)

Effective Reach or Frequency – Making the Calculations

In the typical Reach vs. Frequency battle, it is important that you first make the decision on Effective Frequency and then, (probably after looking at budgetary constraints) fix the reach you are targeting.

Effective Frequency is a function best represented in the below equation.
EF = 1 + VA (TA + BA + BATT + PI)
where, VA – Vehicular attention (involvement) paid by the target group to the medium being used
TA – Target audiences‘ Purchasing behaviour, loyalty, etc.
BA – Brand Awareness – How much does the brand score on Spontaneous, Top of Mind, and Overall awareness.
BATT – The brand’s attitudinal positions held in the consumers’ minds.
PI – Personal Influence, i.e. How many purchases can one purchase influence (through word of mouth, recommendation, etc.)

A few more comprehensive frameworks are shown below, which differentiates parameters basis the brand, the message, the medium and the product category. On account of several parameters, you score yourself on a scale of 3 onwards.
Effective Frequency

The final weighted average of the table is the Effective Frequency that you should pursue.
This turns out to be 5 in our case shown above and hence you should pursue the second choice of 40% of your TG viewing your ad at-least 5 times.

A more comprehensive framework is shown below where you start from ‘3’ and add / subtract basis the scores you provide on 3 major categories – The Product type, The Creative and The Medium being used.
Effective Frequency detailed

What to do next?
These frameworks are a must for efficient media spend and need to be revisited atleast annually.
You can also use these models as a checklist on what works best – simple unique copy, lesser number of messages, clear sell, longer units; in continuous investments in low clutter media, with higher editorial compatibility – phew !

Further Recommended Reading:
When Ads work, John Philip Jones
Advance Media Planning, J.R.Rossiter and P.J. Danaher
Effective Frequency: The Relationship Between Frequency and Advertising Awareness, by Michael J. Naples.




  1. Pingback: Understanding Memory – towards Total brand Recall | brand manager guide - December 28, 2014

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