Effective frequency

Effective frequency

In advertising, the effective frequency is the number of times a person must be exposed to an advertising message before a response is made and before exposure is considered wasteful.

The subject on effective frequency is quite controversial. Many people have their own definition on what this word means. There are also numerous existing research studies with their own theories or models as to what the correct number is for effective frequency.

Different meanings

There are several definitions of effective frequency. Some key examples are as follows:

Advertising Glossary defines effective frequency as “Exposures to an advertising message required to achieve effective communication. Generally expressed as a range below which the exposure is inadequate and above which the exposure is considered wastage.” [ [http://www.advertisingglossary.net/definition/1092-Effective_Frequency Effective Frequency Definition | Define Effective Frequency | What Is It? ] ]

Business Dictionary defines it as “Advertising theory that a consumer has to be exposed to an ad at least three times within a purchasing cycle (time between two consecutive purchases) to buy that product.” [ [http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/effective-frequency.html effective frequency definition ] ]

Marketing Power defines it as “An advertiser's de-termination of the optimum number of exposure opportunities required to effectively convey the advertising message to the desired audience or target market." [ [http://www.marketingpower.com/mg-dictionary-view1201.php Marketing Terms Dictionary - American Marketing Association - www.marketingpower.com ] ]

John Philips Jones says “Effective frequency can mean that a single advertising exposure is able to influence the purchase of a brand. However, as all experienced advertising people know, the phrase was really coined to communicate the idea that there must be enough concentration of media weight to cross a threshold. Repetition was considered necessary, and there had to be enough of it within the period before a consumer buys a product to influence his or her choice of brand.” [Jones, John Philip. What Does Effective Frequency Mean in 1997? (Part 1 of 2). "Journal of Advertising Research", 37 (4): 14-17, July 1997. ISSN: 0021-8499.]


In 1879-80, Hermann Ebbinghaus conducted research on higher mental processes. He again replicated the entire procedure in 1883-4. With the methods he used, Ebbinghaus obtained a remarkable set of results. He was the first to describe the shape of the learning curve. He reported that the time required to memorize an average nonsense syllable increases sharply as the number of syllables increases. He discovered that distributing learning trials over time is more effective in memorizing nonsense syllables than massing practice into a single session; and he noted that continuing to practice material after the learning criterion has been reached enhances retention.

Using one of his methods called savings as an index, he showed that the most commonly accepted law of association, viz., association by contiguity (the idea that items next to one another are associated) had to be modified to include remote associations (associations between items that are not next to one another in a list). He was the first to describe primacy and recency effects (the fact that early and late items in a list are more likely to be recalled than middle items), and to report that even a small amount of initial practice, far below that required for retention, can lead to savings at relearning. He even addressed the question of memorization of meaningful material and estimated that learning such material takes only about one tenth of the effort required to learn comparable nonsense material. [Hermann Ebbinghuas. (1885: English 1913) [http://brain.web-us.com/memory/hermann_ebbinghaus.htm Memory] . Intelegen Inc.]

This learning curve has been used to help researches study advertising message retention.

Thomas Smith wrote a guide called Successful Advertising in 1885. [ [http://www.shef.ac.uk/english/modules/ell333/site/adverts/smith.html Thomas Smith, Successful Advertising, 7th edn, 1885] ] The saying he used is still being used today.

The first time people look at any given ad, they don't even see it.
The second time, they don't notice it.
The third time, they are aware that it is there.
The fourth time, they have a fleeting sense that they've seen it somewhere before.
The fifth time, they actually read the ad.
The sixth time they thumb their nose at it.
The seventh time, they start to get a little irritated with it.
The eighth time, they start to think, "Here's that confounded ad again."
The ninth time, they start to wonder if they're missing out on something.
The tenth time, they ask their friends and neighbors if they've tried it.
The eleventh time, they wonder how the company is paying for all these ads.
The twelfth time, they start to think that it must be a good product.
The thirteenth time, they start to feel the product has value.
The fourteenth time, they start to remember wanting a product exactly like this for a long time.
The fifteenth time, they start to yearn for it because they can't afford to buy it.
The sixteenth time, they accept the fact that they will buy it sometime in the future.
The seventeenth time, they make a note to buy the product.
The eighteenth time, they curse their poverty for not allowing them to buy this terrific product.
The nineteenth time, they count their money very carefully.
The twentieth time prospects see the ad, they buy what is offering.

Herbert E. Krugman wrote, “The Impact of Television Advertising: Learning without Involvement” while he was employed at General Electric. [Herbert E. Krugman (1965). [http://poq.oxfordjournals.org/content/vol29/issue3/index.dtl The Impact of Television Advertising: Learning Without Involvement] . "Public Opinion" 29: 349-356.6.] His theory has been adopted and widely use in the advertising arena. The following is what he wrote: "Let me try to explain the special qualities of one, two and three exposures. I stop at three because as you shall see there is no such thing as a fourth exposure psychologically; rather fours, fives, etc., are repeats of the third exposure effect.

"Exposure No. 1 is...a "What is it?" type of... response. Anything new or novel no matter how uninteresting on second exposure has to elicit some response the first time...if only to discard the object as of no further interest...The second exposure...response...is "What of it?"...whether or not [the message] has personal relevance...

"By the third exposure the viewer knows he's been through his "What is it's?" and "What of it's?," and the third, then, becomes the true reminder . . . The importance of this view . . . is that it positions advertising as powerful only when the viewer...is interested in the [product message] ...Secondly, it positions the viewer as...reacting to the commercial--very quickly...when the proper time comes round.

"There is a myth in the advertising world that viewers will forget your message if you don't repeat your advertising often enough. It is this myth that supports many large advertising expenditures...I would rather say the public comes closer to forgetting nothing they have seen on TV. They just "put it out of their minds" until and unless it has some use . . . and [then] the response to the commercial continues."

According to Krugman there are only three levels of exposure in psychological, not media, terms: Curiosity, recognition and decision. [Erwin Ephron. [http://www.ephrononmedia.com/article_archive/articleViewerPublic.asp?articleID=75 A Frequency of Three] .]


This section will help you make an informed decision about effective frequency. The following list of articles and books deal with the different theories and models. There are numerous studies that have been conducted. This is a small list.

Colin McDonald. “What is the Short-term Effect of Advertising?” Marketing Science Institute – 1971 (Book)

Michael J. Naples. “Effective Frequency.” (Paperback)

A Sawyer and S Ward. “Carry-over Effects in Advertising Communication: Evidence and Hypotheses from Behavioral Science.” Marketing Science Institute. 1976 (Book)

Batra, Rajeev, Donald R. Lehmann, Joanne Burke, and Jae Pae. “When Advertising Have An Impact? A Study of Tracking Data.” Journal of Advertising Research 35, 5 (1995): 19-32

Craig, C. Samuel, Brian Sternthal, and Clark Leavite. “Advertising Wearout: An Experimental Analysis.” Journal of Marketing Research 13, 4 (1976): 356-372

Lawrence D. Gibson. “What Can One TV Exposure Do?” Journal of Advertising Research, Vol. 36, 1996

Stephen J. Hoch, and John Deighton. “Managing What Consumers Learn from Experience.” Journal of Marketing, Vol. 53, No. 2 (Apr., 1989), pp. 1-20

John Philip Jones. “Ad Spending: Maintaining Market Share.” Harvard Business Review 68, 1 (1990): 38-41

John Philip Jones. “Single-Source Research Begins to Fulfill Its Promise.” Journal of Advertising Research, Vol. 35, 1995

Herbert E. Krugman. “The Impact of Television Advertising: Learning Without Involvement” Public Opinion Quarterly, volume 29, page 349, 1965.

Herbert E. Krugman. “Why Three Exposures May Be Enough.” Journal of Advertising Research 12, 6 (1972): 11-14

Leonard M Lodish, Magid Abraham, Stuart Kalmenson, Jeanne Livelsberger, Beth Lubftkin, Bruce Richardson, and Mary Ellen Stevens. “How TV Advertising Works: A Meta-Analysis of 389 Real World Split Cable TV Advertising Experiments.” Journal of Marketing Research 32, 2 (1995): 125-139

Deborah MacInnis, Ambar Rao, Bernard Jaworski. “Advertising Context, Consumer Response and Brand Sales: Findings from Split-Cable Television Experiments.” Working Paper. University of Southern California, 1997

Cornelia Pechmann and David W. Stewart. “Loyalty and Brand Purchase: A Two Stage Model of Choice." Journal of Marketing Research 25, 2 (1988)

Cornelia Pechmann and David W. Stewart. “Advertising Repetition: A Critical Review of Wearin and Wearout.” Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising 11, 2 (1992): 285-330

Gerard J. Tellis. “Advertising Exposure, Loyalty and Brand Purchase: A Two Stage Model of Choice.” Journal of Marketing Research 25, 2 (1988) 138-144

Hubert A. Zielske. “The Remembering and Forgetting of Advertising.” Journal of Marketing, Vol. 23, No. 3 pp. 239-243 (Jan., 1959)


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