Will Netflix Learn Erwin Ephron's Lesson?

When the Albarda household cut the cable cord, we did so being equal part excited and worried. But when we found the combination of good old “over-the-air” TV via antenna (now delivered in HD), coupled with our platforms of choice, we never looked back.

Spectrum has not given up the fight, and is bombarding my inbox and mailbox with about one “exclusive for you” offer per week. But we ain’t going back, so save yourself the trouble already, Spectrum marketing team (you have tried for a year!).

And now there's an offer for an affordable version of Netflix. The ad-supported version is priced very competitively in comparison to the likes of Hulu and Paramount+ (all ad-supported as well).

But there is one thing I would like to ask of Netflix before I commit to adding it into our TV menagerie. And I was, in part, reminded to do so because of the Spectrum beggathon to come back to cable.

I have written about this annoying element of the platform advertising universe before: ad repetition and frequency. General Motors’ Chevy brand is the biggest culprit in our area (southern North Carolina), followed closely by IHG Hotels. When we watch content via any of the ad-supported platforms, including those made available by our local news stations, almost every ad break is filled with these advertisers.



The other day we counted seven (!!!) repeats, back-to-back, of the same Chevy truck ad on local news. And chalked the same IHG ad in literally every break on Hulu.

The late, great Erwin Ephron taught us that recency, not frequency, matters -- and that, in general, reach should be preferred over frequency. It’s clear that these wise lessons have not reached the Chevy and IHG media teams. They are, in fact, accomplishing the exact opposite of what I presume was their advertising intent.

For Chevy, it’s clear they want to sell me on both the versatility of the Silverado truck, and the wide range of accessories available to personalize it. And IHG is selling me on its wide range of hotel brands under its umbrella, so that I can guest how I guest (I also don’t know what that means, but IHG’s new slogan is “Guest how you guest”).

And clearly the platforms do not care about ensuring ads remain effective, either. Or are they that using ad annoyance as a way to upsell consumers to the more expensive premium offerings without ads? That goes diametrically against ad effectiveness, so as an advertiser I would make every effort to not be used as such.

IHG and Chevy spend big money on producing big ads and then placing these ads on screens. There are hundreds of people involved in this food chain: agencies, brand managers, media managers, maybe an in-house programmatic team, insights analysts, account managers, and many more. None of these people have taken the initiative to test their media schedule against a simple metric, taught to us by Erwin Ephron: How much is too much?

So, Netflix: if the collective of agencies, advertisers and platforms can’t or won’t do it, will you? It sounds to me like a real differentiator. And you might win my loyalty by doing so.

6 comments about "Will Netflix Learn Erwin Ephron's Lesson?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 14, 2022 at 1:38 p.m.

    Maarten, I happened to be there when Erwin was  talking with professor Jones about his UPC scanner findings and we had many discussions about the "recency" idea. The real point was not that you should try to minimize frequency as added frequency almost always produced more sales---though not in direct proportion to the incremental media cost of the extra "exposures". So what you had, inevitably, was a curve which, if loooked at simplistically, suggested that an ideal goal was short term---weekly---reach with as little redundency as possible. However just about zero ad campaigns last only  week---most play out over the course of two or three years before a repositioning or new approach is mandataed. So, when  Erwin proposed that you must also advertise every week the result, inevitably, would be  lots and lots of repeat exposures to your commercials from one week to the next.

    In my view, what really matters is how much space---or time---- you put between exposures. If they come one after the other---sometimes in a single viewing sequence---that's not so good. But if they come three or five days apart---that may work out just fine. 

  2. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA) replied, October 14, 2022 at 1:52 p.m.

    Hey Ed - I count myself lucky as having been in the same room as both Erwin and Prof. Jones. We invited them to Coca-Cola's global media summit. It was an enlightening experience with many common-sense lessons that were underpinned by data. I did not do Erwin justice in this post (and others have done that far better), and I know I oversimplified. 

    But... I do remember a conversation where he said that broader reach of "new" people that were potentially in the market for your product yielded higher returns than ramming frequency down the throat of the same group over and over.

    The challenge for brands with a very broad appeal (i.e. Coca-Cola for instance) is that so many different people are in the market at such varying times of the day, of the week, around events, etc. that frequency does become a neccessity. 

    Having said all of that, there is NO excuse for Chevy or IHG to schedule spots either in EVERY break in EVERY program, or multiple times back-to-back. In no world does that amount to smart planning.

  3. Frank Zazza from Coup247, October 14, 2022 at 2:01 p.m.

    The fact is everyone in the food chain will eat plentiful if ad frequency numbers are met. However, there is another factor that rarely is measured I call it "Cognitive Rejection Tolerance.” Simply put the mind will reject constant high-frequency ads that have exceeded the mind’s cognitive threshold tolerance for watching the same commercial over and over. At some point, the eyes will stare at the commercial however the mind is somewhere else. Cognitive rejections tolerances vary by age and gender, however, we all have a limit far below the repeated commercial airings. Until brands do a deeper research dive on their true ROI, the food chain will continue to gauge themselves on high ad frequency commercials.

  4. Gabriel Greenberg from Octillion, October 14, 2022 at 2:53 p.m.

    I am hopeful that any new platforms (any of them - not pointing to Netflix) can learn from the mistakes of those that came before them. Most new streamers have chased massive budgets from these big brands in favor of the dollars vs user experience and churn. The result for the new platform was a small group of launch partners whose ads were seen over and over again. I recall one that had many Lowes ads. I coudl litterally recite the ads ... we need relevance and user experience to be prioritized and when we can do this and get real ad $$'s everyone will win - but most importantly the consumer which will mean the platform wins and then the advertisers win longterm from lack of churn

  5. John Grono from GAP Research, October 17, 2022 at 6:08 p.m.

    Spot on.

    While I didn't get to meet Erwin I did get to meet J.P. Jones down here in Oz.   I absolutely concur with their work, opinions and conclusions.

    I think it is not just the advertiser that is denigrating its brand with a barrage of repetitive ads, but also the broadcaster/channel/conduit suffers.   I live in a regional area and the TV channels take their feed (apart from news etc.) from their national associate.   And example is a Husqvarna ad for robotic mowers.   They have two 15-second ads.   Due to the lack of advertisers the ads are being run back-to-back and generally three times in the break.   Not only does Husqvarna appear as though they are bombarding the audience, but the broadcaster appears deperate to run ads endlessly rather than meaningfully.   To compound that, they also have various transmissions Std, HD etc.) and they run the same content on the channels resukting in apparentlt endless cycles on NCIS repeats!

  6. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 18, 2022 at 8:40 a.m.

    John,  Erwin and Jones were not referring to situtions where  a brand runs  many commercials in the same telecast----as we often see in elongated sports attractions or in some cable and streaming video circumstances. They were simply talking about frequency in general--and in a highly limited time frame---one week.

    The problem with this theory is that it notes that there is a diminishing curve of sales gains relative to one week frequency that is disproportionate to the added media cost and therefore tries to minimize short term frequency while demanding that this be repeated week after week ---every week. In other words the idea was that you should under "ideal"circumstances seek a 70% weekly reach with an average  frequency of 1.0---which is impossible. In reality, it would take hundreds of GRPs to do that with the result that each week you would have an average frequency of 3-4. Project that to the "do it every week" mandate and your yearly frequency would be astronomical---even if you have the money to afford this luxury.

    One final point. "Recency", like "effective frequency" before it, was an attempt to formulize media planning at a time when little or no consideration was given to ad attentiveness. Hence it was assumed that the TV rating services were, in fact, telling us that people were "watching" commercials ----when many weren't. For example, if, using Nielsen numbers, you were somehow able to buy media so 70% of your target group "saw" your ad exactly once, in reality 65% of your "ideal" weekly reach would not have seen your commercial at all. 

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