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Giving The Right Impressions: How Many Times Do You Need To Be Told?

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It’s a fundamental question when you begin planning out an advertising campaign: how many times should an audience be shown an advertisement before they respond positively to the offer?

Bizarrely, there is actually some consensus if you Google that question. A lot of people say 7; though there’s little agreement over what happens after that 7th viewing. Some suggest the viewer will go out and make that purchase, some suggest they will actually take notice of what the ad says… others suggest they will just get past the point of being irritated by the ad.

Delve a little deeper and it becomes apparent this rule of thumb is based on… well, very little. One particular proponent of the ‘rule of 7’ also quotes from Thomas Smith’s ‘Successful Advertising’ guide – which was printed in 1887. So we thought it might be worth looking at this question again, from the perspective of a media planning ad agency with data less than 130 years old.

Logically-speaking, one might expect a gradual uplift in performance as the audience is exposed to repeated impressions – until it begins to dip or reaches a plateau, which could be determined as the Optimum Frequency. But as far as DR campaigns go, in the age of multi-screen viewing, this isn’t always the case – results can be almost binary.

If someone’s sat at home on their sofa, half concentrating on a text conversation on their phone… whilst an advertisement for a new chocolate bar comes on the TV, you can’t really expect much in the way of immediate action. It might feasibly have them poking around the back of their cushions looking for a long-lost Hobnob… but it’s unlikely to have them walking out of the front door on a mission to find the advertised chocolate bar. Unless it’s the best ad (or chocolate bar) that’s ever been made. More likely, it’s a case of gradually building up brand awareness, so they might recall that chocolate bar next time they ‘re in the corner shop.

But if someone’s sat at home on their sofa, half concentrating on a text conversation on their phone, whilst an advertisement for a mobile phone app comes on the TV; then the situation is very different. “Download the free app today” says the ad… and, providing that someone heard the call-to-action, it can be a yes or no answer. There’s no cost barrier or switching-of-activity required. And if the answer was no, would it really be worth paying to have that question asked repeatedly? No.

Or would it?

No.

Or would it?

No.

In reality, the process is obviously a little more nuanced than that. But there are some solid principles and proven correlations in term of impressions and performance. And with these, we can say quite definitively that there are some viable strategies to avoid saturation – increasing reach and maintaining low CPAs in the process.

With the specific example of advertising mobile apps, we can identify a particular point at which increasing the number of impressions leads to diminishing returns. So instead of paying for exponentially more expensive incremental coverage, it may be worth pursuing broader reach elsewhere… or revamping the creative… or, in the future, perhaps working to sequential messaging based on what we know the viewer has already rejected.

Any which way, as more and more data becomes available to planners and advertisers, there will be more and more sectors where the answer to ‘what’s the optimum frequency’ can actually be provided based on solid evidence. And more often that not, it won’t be 7.