Advertising / Being Economical / Running a Business / The state of the economy

Reach vs. Frequency in Radio Advertising

Five years ago when I started doing marketing for car dealerships, frequency was all the rage. Dealers wanted hard-hitting spots Wednesday through Saturday the last two weeks of the month. Not knowing any better, I didn’t contest, though I thought it a little strange that 1) they thought people would come in a buy a car the minute they heard a commercials and 2) they thought people wouldn’t be a car on a Monday, and finally 3) they didn’t have anyone buy a car the first week of the month.

Frequency-loaded radio schedules for big advertisers ($25,000/mo+) typically include 3-4 stations each with a frequency of  3.0 or 4.0 within selected dayparts and ONLY the last two weeks of the month. They also usually target a primary demographic (e.g. 18 – 34) and don’t really bother worrying about reaching anybody else, as long as they can hit their primary demo a bunch of times. These advertisers wanted to be in morning drive 6A – 10A and afternoon drive 3P – 7P and they wanted to hit the same people a lot of times. The idea was that the more times you hear a spot, the more likely you are to feel motivated to buy a ____ (whatever they’re selling). This mindset is actually still really popular, and perhaps it is popular for a reason.

However, there’s a new model that’s emerged called Recency by Erwin Ephron. The first time I heard it I thought, “duh, of course that’s true.” But the more I study it the more complicated and anti-traditional I realize it really is.

My mentor Bill Matthews a Clear Channel gave a seminar in Recency recently, here’s some points the theory talks about:

  • Most advertisers believe that their ad is what drives people to buying their product. The Recency model says it’s not the ad but NEED that drives consumer purchases.
    • If you aren’t in the market for a car, no number of radio spots or ads are going to convince you that you are. If you ARE in the market for a new car, then you’re in a window of opportunity for those car dealer ads to affect your buying style.
    • “It is as if there is a window of opportunity for the ad message preceding each purchase. Advertising’s job is to influence the purchase, media’s job is to put the message in the window.”
    • But Ephron’s theory is that advertisers who ONLY advertise to these people who are in the market RIGHT NOW are just getting low-hanging fruit.
  • This model in media buying plans for reach, instead of frequency. And it stresses continuity in place of flighting. It relies more on dispersion and less on targeting.
    • Recency suggests that advertisers who are only advertising on quick, sporadic, end-of-week sales or high-freqency runs with low reach are missing the ball.
    • These schedules are missing out on all the people who’s windows of opportunity fall when they are off the air!!! I mean c’mon people PURCHASES ARE MADE EVERY WEEK.
  • The theory also suggests that the FIRST time a consumer hears an ad is the MOST EFFECTIVE the commercial will ever be.
    • This means you don’t have to hit someone over the head with the same ad 30 times – if it was good they got it the first time.
    • But I’ve actually had a lot of success using more stations, widening reach, reducing freqency, and making sure the buys have continuity.

Like I said, the more I think about this model, the more sense it makes to me, but then it also seems really subversive too. I like subversive things – especially when the standard is wrong.

In this economy, advertisers MUST see results immediately or they walk away. They don’t have the luxury to spend loads of money and just hope that half of it lands somewhere good. If the Recency model catches on, not only will it positiviely impact the advertisers by being more efficient and effective, but it would eliminate waste and excess too, which may drive radio sales down . . . .


8 thoughts on “Reach vs. Frequency in Radio Advertising

  1. Pingback: Commercials That Are So Bad They’re Good « Alice’s World and What She Saw There

  2. Pingback: Recession Brings Out the Worst in Clients « Alice’s World and What She Saw There

  3. Hi, thanks I found this very helpful. I’m stil looking for a guide on the suggested frequency for radio advertising. I understood your message that often its not the frequency but reach. Do you suggest that I should look into advertising on a few different stations 3 times rather than concentrate on one station and have it running 9 times?

  4. Absolutely. I’ve had a lot of success with this model. More stations = equal more reach, which is more people. Then make your creative stand out and you’ll get a campaign that a lot of people pay attention to. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Just a quick question, do you adjust your creative to suite the sound, feel and demographic of the stations that you are advertising on or is this a one size fits all scenario?

  6. I have never adjusted the creative to the station except when buying Hispanic media. I think one creative message – as long as it is catchy, noticeable, appealing to the demographic you are buying – is best. There’s a lot to say about consistency in advertising…

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