Reach, and Frequency, and Salience.

It’s a given in media placement that frequency sells, and that repetition is critical to advertising success. A single exposure of an ad is “reach” – defined by the number of people who’ve had the opportunity to be exposed. More exposures to the same ad for those same people are “frequency.”

Media planners will tell you that a weekly frequency of “three” is essential. So, when budget constraints force them to trade some reach for additional frequency, they do so without argument.  And for most ads, this is prudent thinking. Why? Because the average ad is… average. Nothing special. And announcements with lesser salience necessarily require more repetition to have an effect on their audience.

But what happens when an ad is better than average? What happens when the ad content captures, and holds, attention better than the average ad? Is frequency still essential to move goods and services?

Let’s look at this one which ran during this year’s Superbowl:

How much frequency did Denny’s need to get this message out? A frequency of one. They purchased astronomical reach, and a single exposure. Now, truthfully, there was follow up exposure (frequency) over the next few days, which acted as a “Yes, you heard right” reminder. And an estimated two million people crowded into their restaurants on February 3 between 6am and 2pm.

Free breakfast is a highly salient message. If only we could all be Denny’s. What if you don’t have the ability to give away your product? What if you’re, say, a car dealer? Can your message be salient enough to benefit from increased reach at the expense of frequency? Suppose, instead of the usual chest thumping “we will not be undersold” posturing of most car dealers, you said:

“I’m John Johnson of Friendly Autos. Do people believe the hype from car dealers about their crazy sales or selling below invoice? I don’t think so. People are smart enough to know that if you sell anything for less than you buy it for, you’ll quickly go out of business. I’m not going to pretend that we don’t need to make a profit at Friendly Autos because we do, but we don’t need to take someone to the cleaners by making a thousand dollars profit on each car. That’s robbery. And trying to convince you that it’s below invoice? Well, that’s just insulting. At Friendly Autos we make roughly $300 to $400 on each car, and that’s enough to pay my employees a good wage, and keep the lights on in the dealership. So, if you’re looking for solid value, and honest deal, and a great car, come to Friendly Autos. We’ll find a car that’s right for you and a deal that’s even better. Of course, if you need a crazy below invoice sale to make you feel like you’re getting a deal, there are dozens of other dealers who would love to see you. And let me know how that works out for you, OK? Friendly Autos, downtown on Main at Second.”

Again, a pretty powerful message, don’t you think? If I were the media planner on this account, I’d be scheduling for the highest possible reach.

Conclusion: The value of reach increases with the salience of the message. The more average your message, the more repetition it will require.