Commercial Frequency Really Wears Me Out!

When you watch your favorite ad-supported streaming network, do you see the same ad from a brand in nearly every pod? By the end of the program, you’re probably asking yourself, “who is minding the frequency store?” That level of frequency is not a way to endear consumers to your brand. In fact, it has the opposite effect.

Let’s face it, when you talk to consumers today, especially younger ones, they are ad averse and have little attention span. So why turn them off by shoving your ad down their throats over and over?

I don’t hear much about commercial wear out as much as I once did. Yet it’s very measurable, especially with digital media and its ability to analyze data. It appears to me that creative isn’t always being developed with that issue in mind.

Wear out is, of course, a relative term. One version defines it as the point where the mix of creative, media placement and spending begin to lose the ability to achieve a campaign’s communications objectives and generate a response or consumer interest.



Ad strategies tend not to wear out. But executions do. Overuse of a commercial will likely irritate consumers, or worse, get them to tune-out altogether. Strong competition can accelerate wear out, particularly if there is little differentiation in creative strategy.

Historically, research tells us that planning the right reach, frequency and weight levels gives us directional input. This of course varies by several factors including category interest, level of brand awareness, message complexity, tone, and nature of the creative.

Using humor and engaging storylines can be effective in breaking through the clutter as is a more emotional approach. Just think of all those auto insurance ads, some of which are quirky and others downright funny. It’s obvious that the agency execs behind those ads recognize that insurance is a low interest category, which explains why insurers like Progressive and GEICO run so many different ads and campaigns. They stay fresh.

Today’s consumers are hit up with over 5,000 ads per day across a wide spectrum of media channels. Exposure across all these media touchpoints needs to be factored in when determining wear out.

Hulu understands this and knows there is a direct correlation between ad experience and subscriber churn. Several years ago, they made the move to limit ad pods to 90 seconds, and implemented frequency caps of 2X per hour, 4X per day and 25X per week, per viewer. That said, they can’t control what viewers see through their live subscriptions since the networks own that inventory. And when you consider the combined frequency across multiple streaming platforms, exposure feels exponential.

Speaking of streaming services, some of the newer ones have fewer advertisers, making them even more susceptible to frequency issues. The onus is on advertisers to vary their creative.  It’s always been astounding to me that brands will spend millions on media for a campaign, yet only produce one 30-second commercial.

One approach to avoid wearout is to develop campaigns that take on a more episodic approach, that is, airing several ads concurrently or even sequentially. Even simple variations of an ad can give the impression of a much bigger campaign feel. Varying unit lengths might also work well not only to seed a message but maintain exposure, especially when budgets are limited. A shorter unit length works well if the message is not too complex or if you’re trying to build frequency or if you’ve successfully seeded a :30 version. Granted, this can all lead to a larger production budget.

Let’s consider the current Postmates campaign. There is not only a perceived heavy rotation of :30s, but also :15 versions of the creative; “When all you can sushi is think about…” Given the level of frequency that I’m experiencing, it feels like they could easily incorporate additional creative executions beyond pizza and fries that use the similar play on words. My hope is that they are paying close attention to wear out. Their data results around purchase intent will clearly show how the campaign is performing.

So, what is the balance between airing ads at a high enough level to make an impact without turning off your desired consumer audience? Is there even a clear answer anymore? Data analytics can certainly address this question.

Remember, you can have a fantastic campaign but if you are running it too frequently, and consequently wearing it out, you will negate everything you’ve strived for. I believe this topic is worthy of further analysis and exploration given today’s complex media landscape. It wears me out just thinking about it!


1 comment about "Commercial Frequency Really Wears Me Out!".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 15, 2021 at 12:12 p.m.

    Some very good points, Zach. The problem is that many of the digital media deals seem to be made by programmatic computers which do not account for reach or frequency patterns and, as a result of their focus on CPM "efficiency" they buy so many placements on certain  platforms that the commercial exposures just pile up.One way around this is to deal direct with the sellers---human to human--- and specify what frequency you will get----ideally, l extending the time between exposures per venue as much as possible. Another "solution" isto rotate ad schedules on various services, channels, etc. so they are dispersed as much as possible and, finally, to use all dayparts and program genres not just those few that seem to be the best in terms of targeting.

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