From Recency To Engagement To Whatever Comes Next...

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I'm accompanying these with an image that helped inspire the launch of a new MediaPost publication -- the Planning & Buying Insider -- and which I hope will inspire some of you to read, and ideally, contribute to it.

It's the cover of Erwin Ephron's "Media Planning," which for many has served as the bible of the post-modern era of planning and buying.

And it's not just because Ephron wrote it with the impact of "posts" in mind, but because of what its subhead suggests: "From Recency To Engagement."

Published nearly two decades ago, the book was the first best attempt to help the ad industry grasp with the simultaneous effects of the proliferation of new sources of media, and the fragmentation of audiences advertisers and agencies could reach through them.



Personally, I believe it is an incomplete work -- just a pragmatic, stopgap measure for dealing with a seismically disruptive change in the underlying principles of media planning and buying -- and if Ephron were still talking and writing today, he would have brought it full circle to a more comprehensive conclusion.

The good news is he left an opening for others -- many of whom are some of the most prolific and engaged commenters on MediaPost's coverage -- to continue leading us in that direction, and I'm hoping this will inspire some of them to step up and take an active role contributing thoughts of their own. We're standing by to interview or edit you. Just give use the word.

I first got to know Ephron when I was just beginning to cover media planning and buying at Adweek in the early 1980s. Back then he was a partner in an ad agency, and my wife was actually one of his young media planners. Even then she described him in ways that were almost larger than life, as a guru blazing a new path for thinking about and executing media.

Later, as an editor at Marketing & Media Decisions, I got to know Ephron more directly, because he was one of the regular contributors writing about the evolution of media planning, and I'm pretty sure he worked out some of his earliest recency planning thinking via some of the columns we published there.

In some ways my personal goal with the Planning & Buying Insider is to recreate what we used to do with Decisions, serve as a forum for the most important media planning and buying thinkers to share what they're thinking about the current state and future of the industry.

You'll see some of that in this inaugural edition, including an important retrospective by Morten Pedersen, a call for longer-term thinking about media effects by David Hohman, and my exclusive interview with Kroll's industry forensics expert Richard Plansky.

In upcoming issues, we'll be tackling a variety of other important discussions, theories, research and insights to stimulate the dialogue influencing the art, craft and science of media planning and buying.

As they used to say in one of those media, stay tuned.

13 comments about "From Recency To Engagement To Whatever Comes Next...".
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  1. John Grono from GAP Research, September 11, 2023 at 5:27 p.m.

    An excellent initiative Joe.

    I never met Erwin (being an Aussie) but he quickly became 'my guru'.   I had moved from TV research to an advertising agency and 'the buyers' rapidly became a separate entity that became OMD.   I learnt more from reading 'The Erwin Letter' than any other source, and I still cherish re-reading them.   From my perspective he had a laser-like focus on the consumer result and why they were successful (or not) and not focussing on the latest technology but rather the effect that the new technology - some good and some bad.

    Sadly next month it will be 10 years since this giant of meida planning left us all, but his impact is still alive and increasingly important.

  2. Jonathan Bouman from Oodle, September 12, 2023 at 11:29 a.m.

    I was lucky enought tio meet Erwin at an ARF conference in NYC. I asked him directly about average TV GRPs for a regional drug store I had set at 70 GRPs per week to run the entire year based on the budget they had. He agreed that would suffice and so it was confirmed directly from the man him,self based on recency metrics. "We don't know when the Cheerios box will be empty, but we'd better be in front of the consumer when it happens".  

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 12, 2023 at 12:25 p.m.

    Johnathan, did he tell you that it was OK to use 70 GRPs per week---providing that this buy attained a 70% weekly reach and your average frequency was 1.0? That was the original suggested approach for the recency theory.

  4. Marcelo Salup from Iffective LLC, September 12, 2023 at 5:34 p.m.

    I met Erwin Ephrom ages ago, when I was VP and Regional Media Director at Foote Cone & Belding for Latin America. To say his work was seminal is a total understatement. I joined his work with the, then recent, "When Ads Work" by John Phillip Jones and emerged with what I baptized as "Reach Based Media Planning" and implemented it all over Latin America. So, yeah, he influenced all of my thinking.

    It is a testament to the sheer stupidity of the industry as a whole that, 20 years after both, Ephrom and Jones basically proved that the first contact is the most powerful one and that subsequent contacts are nothing but diminishing returns, that many still speak of a "Frequency of 3+" or you that you hear digital "experts" still talk about "you need to reach someone 7 times".

    The advertising industry as a whole is 100% resistant to new ideas. Thank god that, at least there are pockets of people who will discuss new ideas, discuss the data, evaluate it and adopt winning ideas.

  5. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 12, 2023 at 6:42 p.m.

    Marcello, Jones used household set usage as a surrogate for viewing and his time frame was an averge week---not the first week---of an ongoing campaign. Also, his calculations for 78 packaged goods brands showed that two or more "impressions" generated better short term sales results than a single "impression" ---but not in proportion to the incremental time cost. So even if you accepted that set usage told you  how often consumers were reached---which is not true----all that was demonstrated was that there's a diminishing return relative to cost as frequency builds up---which was hardly  a big surprise.

    As a mtter of fact, Jones' analysis was a perfect demonstration of how easily set usge data could be misinterpreted. For example, lets say that a commercial appeared on a household's TV screen. What were the chances that the decison maker was the one watching the program? The answer is probably about 50-60%---not 100%. And what were the odds that the decision maker---if watching the show--- also watched the commercial? Being generous, I'd give that a 40-45%. Which means that only 25-30% of Jones' one- frequency homes involved commercial  viewing by the targeted consumer----hence - in most of the one -frequency homes the single assumed ad exposure had no effect. As for the other homes in reality, many of those  that Jones assumed were reached twice or three times---at a higher CPM---  were actually  reached once and some twice  in terms of possible motivating effects. .

    So how do we explain the sales attributed to the one-frequency homes when many were actually zero frequency homes? Simple. The consumers living in these homes had been exposed to the brands'  ad messages a number of times in the previous weeks---meaning that frequency was important---even if you had to pay more to attain it.


  6. John Grono from GAP Research, September 12, 2023 at 8:10 p.m.

    I am yet to see a campaign where 70 GRPS in a week could deliver 70% weekly reach.

    For that to happen, the first ad must be made NOT viewable to the second ad so that there was no audience duplication.   That in itself may only produce (say) a 10% duplication.   The third ad would see increasing duplication factor.

    For a theoretical example, the theoretical 70 GRPs placement was 7 spots each with 10% reach for each spot.   But if spot 2 overlapped with spot 1 with 10% reach, then the incremental reach would be 9% (the other 1% reach was the duplication) and the cumulative reach would be 19% and not 20%.

    The third ad may also overlap by 10%.   So of the 10% individual reach would be 8.1% and 1.9% overlap.   The 30 GRPS are now down to 28.1%.

  7. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 12, 2023 at 8:41 p.m.

    Correct, John. When Erwin began preaching his recency theory he set the ideal goal as a 70 reach per week----every week---with a one frequency per week---or 70 GRPs. I, and I'm sure others, pointed out that this was simply unattainable ---even in the 1990s and even if you went to the expense of buying "roadblock" positions in prime time on all three broadcst TV networks---which would have resulted in very poor targeting. Erwin didn't disagree and soon modified his presentations accordingly as it was obvious to all concerned that you couldn't buy reach without incurring a fair amount of repetition---especially over a short period of time---like a week.
    My point is that a lot of people misunderstand  Erwin's admonition that frequency is "crabgrass"---which is taken to mean that it should be minimized as much as possible---yet the core idea of "recency" was exactly the opposite. Erwin was pitching a continuity concept, namely that you should advertise every week so in that way your ads might be seen closer to that  point when individual consumers were making buying decisions---which might happen any week.  The only way to do that was to buy a lot of frequency but spread it out evenly across a full year. Whether this idea applies to every brand is another issue---maybe it does; maybe it doesn't---it all depends on what brands are involved in what product categories, at what A to S ratios,  etc. etc.

  8. Jonathan Bouman from Oodle replied, September 13, 2023 at 4:11 p.m.

    Correct, ED. He blew up the 3x frequency gospel.

  9. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 13, 2023 at 5:02 p.m.

    Jonathan, as I noted in another post, I don't think that the frequency issue really came into it. Erwin called it "recency" becuse he was pushing for week in, week out continuity for TV ad campaigns. Interestingly, when you figure out how many GRPs it would have taken in the mid 1990s to attain a weekly reach of 70%, it works out to about 200---it would be much more now. So if you did the math underlying Erwin's recommended plan he was advocating a 70 reach per week with an averge frequency of just about 3---for 52 weeks a year.

    At the time Erwin and I had recently been partners in a consulting firm and he rented office space from me. We had many discussions about recency and he was quite flexible about it's appliction---as I was. Neither of us felt that recency was a magical formula that applied to all situations---especially as no small brand and few of the larger ones could afford the level of spending required to implement it.

  10. Jim Meskauskas from Media Darwin, Inc., September 13, 2023 at 5:24 p.m.

    When I started working in media planning and buying in the mid 90s, Ephron's name loomed large over everything I was learning, nothing more so than the concept of Recency. The idea did two things to the framework of how I was thinking about media: one, it added a dimension to reach and frequency, giving me a new way of meaning "effective" reach that went beyond frequency; and two, established a goal for targeting what was at the time a very nascent medium -- digital. Looking forward to this new editorial extension!

  11. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, September 13, 2023 at 6:52 p.m.

    As a career student of Erwin and ardent fan of Ed Papazian and John Grono this exchange is fascinating. Further principles that Erwin espoused were, 'propinquity' of the ad message exposure to the brand consideration/buying time frame and the overarching importance of reach versus frequency.  (Reach of the target with Eyes/Ears-On the message NOT (per Ed) based on the reach of the content rendered or so called viewable imporesions on a surface that may, or may not, be ever heard or seen!)
    As should be understood but is often conveniently ignored, target audience attentive reach is the key and the really tough media agency ask (the data is either not available at the exposure - Eyes/Ears-On level - or not congruent or comparable).  Developed first, reach will always be accompanied by generally adequate frequency.  Erwin did indeed espouse achieving threshold weekly target exposed audience reach but on a contiuous basis.  He also recognised that achieving this "ideal" together with an synergistic array of creative resonant messages over evolving campaigns would be out of range for many products and services. 
    Today's media environment & measurement bottom line?  Focussing on low CPM's and high frequency of 'viewable impressions' is a fools game for any advertiser.   Erwin is watching!

  12. Marcelo Salup from Iffective LLC replied, September 13, 2023 at 8:02 p.m.

    Ed, It's a moot point now, of course, but several things emerged out of it:

    #1 and most important, in between Ephrom and JPJ I was able to put together an entire media strategy + planning thesis that I could brand "FCB" and that had some pedigree and use it as a framework for our media department... in an era when people were still talking about diaries.

    #2 it did allow me to plan better, instead of the huge heavy ups clients wanted I could argue for less frequency and more continuity for the same amount of money, this made negotiations in key countries (like Mexico and Brazil) way way way easier as I could distribute my avails evenly among brands (for example, for Colgate Mexico, alone, I had 36 brands on air all the time).

    #3 I used it as the base for a worldwide study I did on Nabisco (15 countries, 18 months). Oddly enough, all countries with NO heavy up but which had something around 2,200 TRPs/year did really well... as long as the TRPs were evenly spread out. Why? Obvious: purchasing ocassions.

    So, yeah, perhaps it was flawed in some aspects, but I still consider that much more good came out of that than the "conventional wisdom" of the magic 3+

  13. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 14, 2023 at 2:37 a.m.

    Marcello, that "magic 3+ "business is a new one for me. I recall the days when "effective frequency" was in vogue---from about 1970 to 1990 and this theory held---with zilch evidence behind it----that a single "exposure" in a month had zero value while going over 6 was wasteful. So that may be where "the magic 3+" comes from. But, in my experience most media plans---using TV as their main platform---then and now----simply figure out their supposed reach, then calculate their average frequency based on how many GRPs they can afford. And as Tony and I, plus a few others keep pointing out, none of the stats used provide a true picture of the reach or the frequency of the ad campaign. Typically, the reach is overstated by about 20% while the frequency is usully less than half what is estimated. The same point applies when we go to frequency distributions---how many "saw" only one commercial versus two,  three, etc. These are virtually  useless calculations without attentiveness factors being applied to them.  A 3+ frequency goal for a month is actually  a 1 or, at best a 2 frequency reality. Until we fix this "we"---media planners-----are playing with ourselves.

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