One of my core philosophies about advertising is that advertising only serves to drive sales and/or market share. This is a philosophy that is widely accepted by many people, but if you examine it for a moment it clearly states that all advertising is then accountable for itself.
Accountability should be a measure of performance that details effectiveness in an apples-to-apples way, if you develop is correctly. Accountability is the fundamental basis of Direct Response Advertising, and Brand Development and Brand Awareness are a means to an end. Brand metrics are simply a stepping stone for determining how many people in your audience know who you are and might be predisposed to purchase your product or service over that of your competition. A campaign is not considered effective solely because it increases these Brand metrics, but because there is a supposed correlation between Brand metrics and Sales or Market Share.
If this is indeed the case, then Reach and Frequency have a much less important role in modern media and advertising planning. Reach is certainly a number that is outdated. Frequency is slightly less so as it can be used as a means of gauging the weight of your messages on the target.
More important beyond Reach and Frequency is the ability to project the coverage of your dollars and the different levels of conversion to desired actions that you are seeking to generate. These incorporate Reach into the analysis, but they go far beyond the information that Reach can provide. Conversions and reactions to different messaging types are more important. We can also factor in the level of involvement of the audience when being exposed to your message and this will affect the performance of your advertising. Reach within one type of media can be much more effective at generating a response than Reach within a different form of media. Based on these variables, we must concede that Reach is much further down the list of appropriate planning elements than it may have been in previous years.
Most everyone also agrees that the Interactive Advertising industry is a strong pre-cursor for the Advertising industry as whole in terms of the movement towards Accountability. In the end, we are going to become slightly less accountable while traditional media is going to become more accountable and meet us somewhere in the middle. This being the case, don't you think it's rather interesting that the debate about Reach and Frequency seems to have died a quiet death? When was the last time we discussed these elements in depth? It's been awhile and I think this is due to our muted understanding that they are not as important as we once thought they would be.
The holy grail of advertising is, and will continue to be, finding the correlation between awareness and sales. This is not an easy task, and people who are much smarter than me have been trying to prove this for a while, but I look forward to the focus of 2004 being on proving this correlation.
What do you think?