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Frequency: Friend or Foe?

Updated: May 3, 2023

I was at the dentist getting a tooth filled and the radio was set to a local country station. The dentist and her assistant provided great commentary during the commercial breaks.


Their first comment: "I can't understand what they are saying in this commercial - they are talking too fast." My internal dialogue: "They need a better producer who pushes back on TOO MUCH COPY. This happens with far too many ads!"



Their second comment started with a collective groan when a commercial for a local auto-body shop came on. "Not this one again, we are so tired of hearing it!"


My mouth was stuffed with gauze that prevented me from spitting out advertising advice to these ladies who definitely DID NOT ask for it, but you're not so lucky!


The phenomenon they are referring to is over-frequency! (Now imagine me saying "over-frequency" with half a numb mouth!)


Frequency is the number of times the average customer has heard or seen your ads. It is a MUST in advertising because it's a cluttered field and one impression is not enough to get into a person's headspace. But, when an advertiser dumps too much money into one medium and saturates the market, there is such a thing as too much frequency.


Think of it as a tipping point. You need enough ads to be remembered, but not so many that you are annoying the very people you are trying to win over.


"The Shane Company" is a chain of jewelry stores that has had such high ad frequency over the years that I can recite the tag line of their radio spots. But, the first part of their creative changes seasonally to alleviate frequency fatigue.


So what's a good frequency? Well that depends on the medium! A good radio frequency goal should be around 3-4X a campaign on average, but campaign duration also matters. A display ad on your computer may require many more ads before you finally click.


A savvy media buyer will be able to break it down by ad type to develop a plan that doesn't overdo it. If you are placing a media buy, you should absolutely ask what your estimated frequency is for a campaign and discuss a frequency cap for anything digital.


It's important to note that the dentist and hygienist are NOT the typical listener who may only listen to the radio 1-2 hours a day during a commute. They are sitting in an office that's playing the station all day long. Over-frequency for them is also a result of their heavy listening habits. Frequency is an average. So, for every annoyed dentist who has heard an ad 30 times, there's a very infrequent listener who hasn't heard it at all.


A great way to help combat frequency fatigue is to have a few versions of creative running or to update your creative every so often. Like so much in advertising, it's a balancing act! If you have questions about frequency, drop me a line and let's talk!


- Lauren

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