Reach Trumps Frequency By Erwin Ephron
www.EphronOnMedia.com How Radio Can Build Business in A PPM World.
Whenever I hear "Radio is a frequency medium" I shudder. It implies two things, neither good. Either Radio messages don't communicate very well, so you need say it again and again just to be sure. Or Radio's reach is so limited that any typical schedule soon runs out of new listeners.
Both are harmful to radio and neither is true. They are the result of faulty theory and, I think, old fashioned selling. Data clearly shows Radio is much more of a reach medium than traditional thinking would have it, and recall testing shows Radio scores are close to TV.
Media's gift to advertising
In today's marketing, reach trumps frequency. It's easy to see why. Reach is media's gift to marketing. It is fundamental to how mass advertising appears to work.
The key concept is "Recency" which is the common sense idea that advertising is most effective when it reminds people about brands they know, when they happen to need the product.
Here's a Sesame Street example (hypothetical):
1.) At breakfast, Mary sees the cereal box is empty.
2.) Driving home from work, Mary hears a Cheerios commercial on the Radio, which reminds her she needs cereal.
3.) Mary stops at the Supermarket for her regular brand, but she sees the Cheerios box on the shelf and buys it instead.
There are several important things about this scenario.
• The advertising itself did not get Mary to buy cereal (and the frequent repetition of Cheerios messages wouldn't do it either). The empty cereal box did it.
• The advertising simply reminded Mary she needed cereal and at the same time told her about Cheerios -- a brand she knew, but hadn't bought recently.
• In fact, Mary had heard the Cheerios message on Radio the week before, but didn't pay much attention at the time because she didn't need cereal.
That sums it up. Most advertising usually works by reminding people about brands they know, when they happen to need the product. On the face of it, a perfect set-up for Radio, but not when used as a frequency medium.
Frequency is crabgrass
Recency is a "reminding" not a "remembering" model. The difference is critical because reminding is a stimulus that can be controlled; remembering is a response that cannot be.
On the face of it, reminding is a perfect job for Radio, but not when used as a frequency medium. Frequency- contacting one consumer three times with a message, is not as good as reach - contacting three consumers once, because that one consumer is far less likely to need the product than any of the three would be.
And given that someone in the market for a product is usually more receptive to advertising for that product, fewer messages are needed. Again, reach not frequency.
These ideas about how advertising works, together with growing media fragmentation which tends to produce more frequency, have made frequency a kind of media crabgrass. The planner's challenge is to kill it.
All said, today it is not good to be thought of as a frequency medium.
Reach directs planning
How does Recency theory affect media planning? Planners schedule for moderate weekly reach and more weeks of advertising. In TV, the typical weekly reach goal is 35% to 40% of target; the 4-week goal, 65-70%.
They avoid concentrated, flighted schedules because that builds too much frequency. Instead they reduce weight and add weeks of advertising. TV Planners rely more on dispersion of messages across programs, channels and stations (which builds reach) and somewhat less on targeting (which limits dispersion and tends to build frequency). More on this later.
Reach and Television is where national advertiser dollars go today. Radio is largely ignored because it is thought of as a frequency medium.
A final word
Planning for continuous reach has become common practice among national advertisers because it's mostly common-sense and it works better than high frequency flighted scheduling. But there is a nagging concern, especially among Radio station owners, that reaching consumers with fewer messages will make radio less effective. It's the retail experience that high frequency schedules produce results.
Here, as in most decisions, it's a matter of trade-offs. Certainly sales are lost because of too little frequency, but more sales are lost because of no advertising at all. And that's what happens when Radio is planned for frequency and concentrated into fewer weeks.
Advertising doesn't do it alone. Recency's greatest contribution to media planning has been to focus it on the consumer's role in making advertising work. Ads work best when the consumer is ready to buy. That tells planners that reminding a lot of consumers is better than lecturing a few.
In today's planning, reach trumps frequency. It is media's gift to advertising and, as this paper has tried to demonstrate, Radio with new PPM measurement can deliver it by the carload.
Erwin Ephron is an authority on advertising. His fresh ideas about how ads work today have changed the way campaigns are planned throughout the world.