Tackling questions about ad frequency can be a complicated discussion with advertisers. We previously discussed frequency vs. reach as one component of the conversation. The other is about defining effective frequency and what it means. If you do this in a way that’s easy to understand, you can set more accurate expectations with customers.

Here’s how to do it.

What Is Ad Frequency?

Frequency describes the number of times a specific consumer or target could encounter a specific ad during the time of the campaign. It is possible to “cap” frequency in some digital channels to avoid ad fatigue. Depending on the length of the campaign and the tactics you use (digital and linear), frequency can be a wide variety of numbers.

So, when is it effective?

What Is an Effective Ad Frequency?

There is significant data on what the “right” frequency is, with Nielsen revealing five to seven times as the best amount to drive recall. However, context is critical in assigning an effective frequency. Here are some factors that impact it:

  • How aware of your brand those seeing, hearing or watching an ad are
  • The funnel phase of the ad (top, mid or bottom): Ads at the top need more time to resonate than those at the bottom, where people are ready to make a purchase.
  • The complexity of the message: For example, promoting a burger special is an easy initiative compared to ads relating to pharma or health care.
  • The saturation of the market: This would affect the number of ads playing for a product or service; you’ll likely need greater frequency to break through the noise.
  • The type of ad: Each format engages a user differently, from just audio to watching video. The more “passive” the ad, the more times people need to encounter it.
  • The content of the ad: If it includes statistics, testimonials and proof points rather than promotional copy, a consumer may pay more attention to it the first time.

Thus, effective frequency isn’t definitive in digital or linear advertising. Many components impact its ability to drive someone to take action.

More Advice on Explaining Ad Frequency to Advertisers

Ad frequency isn’t a new topic. In fact, in 1885, Thomas Smith wrote “Successful Advertising.” In it, he explained what happens when someone has exposure to an ad from the first time to the 20th. In this journey, consumers go from not noticing it to being curious to beginning to believe it has value.

Those same notions apply today in an environment where most people encounter ads hundreds or thousands of times per day. Over 140 years later, a lot has changed, but the core tenets of Smith’s strategy remain true:

  • Repeated exposure is necessary to introduce a brand to audiences.
  • The first few times someone sees an ad won’t register.
  • Optimizing frequency keeps an organization top of mind to would-be customers.
  • Consistency in advertising is integral to recall and connection.

What else should you keep in mind when discussing the frequency of ads?

Ad Frequency in the Modern World

By combining the teachings of Smith and adding context with what impacts ideal frequency, you can offer these insights to advertisers.

  • The longer the campaign, the higher the frequency, which works best for top-funnel ads.
  • Looking at past data with robust analytics can provide key information about frequency and effectiveness. (Look at impressions, clicks, conversions, video watches, etc.)
  • A campaign that uses digital and linear tactics will present frequency in many channels, which could help nudge people to purchase faster.
  • Ad fatigue is something to consider and cap, especially for bottom-funnel ads or those playing on OTT/CTV where inventory is abundant.
  • Transparent and open communication about frequency and how to optimize it will make local advertisers further value your partnership. It sets expectations early and ensures they understand the importance of effective frequency.

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