Way back when…in a college ad class, my professor espoused the importance of message frequency to the purchase decision. The premise was that within 48 hours, we forget the majority of all information received 48 hours previous. So advertising frequency was critical to reinforcing messages with the audience. Over and over he would say…”the first time they merely become aware, the second time perhaps they become intrigued, the third they might become interested, the fourth they may become intent — and only then will they buy.”
While frequency and its cohort, reach, have certainly been key building blocks for planning and measuring the success of media campaigns, I really haven’t given the concept of frequency and how it applies today much thought. Until recently.
In light of how radically the ad business has changed, I’ve been paying closer attention to how frequency is being used today. One of the things I’ve noticed is that some seem to misuse frequency to compensate for weaknesses in a media plan. It’s like they said “The market is so fragmented, so let’s just pound away relentlessly at those we can reach.” I’ve seen it most blatantly on TV. Several times I’ve seen the same spot run 4 or more times during one 30 minute program. Has our retention/attention span shrunk to mere moments due to the clutter and proliferation of messages from every direction? Personally it annoys me. Especially if the product seems to lack a compelling message targeted to the people watching that program.
For a while it seemed like KFC was running spots for those “lunch bowls” every few minutes on multiple networks. You just couldn’t escape the “sweet Home Alabama” music and visual of the chicken/mashed potatoes/corn/gravy/cheese concoction. They didn’t feel the least bit targeted in their media buy. I mean…just because we all eat food, doesn’t mean we would all eat that. I know I certainly wasn’t a good target. Every time I saw the spot my reaction was more and more negative; and not just towards that product, but towards KFC. It sounded gross and made me think “heart attack in a bowl”. So, what did all the frequency get them? I can’t find any reference relative to sales numbers of the bowls. Maybe it’s too soon for YUM to know. But, no one I’ve talked to has eaten one (or admitted it) — yet most everyone knows about them. So I suppose awareness is way up. At least they have that.
Recently I had a buying experience that made me realize that frequency can be a powerful tool when you connect with an audience that is interested.
A month ago, a friend sent me the link to the OK Go Treadmill video on YouTube. The video was awesome. I figured it would spawn some new dance trend that would put all those treadmills collecting dust and used as clothes racks (like mine) back to use. At the time I was so awed by the video that I don’t think I paid much attention to the actual music. And while I passed on the link to a couple other friends, I didn’t think much more about it.
A couple weeks later I was listening to VH1 while making diner and heard a song I really liked. As I turned around to see who it was I found myself looking at the Treadmill video. Hum….I guess I did like the actual music. It was a momentary thought soon forgotten in the process of finishing dinner.
The following week I got my Rolling Stone magazine and there was a blurb on the OK Go band and treadmill video. And a few days ago while coming back from a road trip to Arkansas I heard the song on the radio. Fourth timeâ€™s a charm. I went to iTunes and bought the song “here it goes again” and a couple other by OK Go.
So it wasn’t an ad, but it was after that 4th exposure that I was compelled to buy. But betting on frequency alone never did and still won’t work. The difference is that from the very beginning I was interested. I was a good purchase candidate. So the frequency of the exposures worked. But without really smart targeting to reach those most likely to buy combined WITH a compelling message, more is just more. And that’s just simply waste.