Advertising/Promo/Spot Frequency

Somewhere I read about a formula used to calculate the number of impressions needed for a spot or promo to really sink in.  You were supposed to multiply cume by 3.4 and do something else and it would give you a right-on number of promos to run.


Do you know anything about this or where I found it?  Thank you! - Anonymous


Anon:  I’m sure you didn’t anticipate that your question would open a giant can of night crawlers, but it did.  I suggest that you get a glass of your favorite beverage because this answer is not a brief one.


However, before I get to your formula, I need to step back a bit and discuss the fundamental base of your question—persuasion.  We need this because we need to know what persuasion is and how it works.  I have a detailed article on persuasion on my business website, but I’ll summarize a few things here for simplicity.


First: Persuasion is communication, and communication is persuasion (that comes from Aristotle, the dead ancient dude).  We cannot not communicate (that comes from Watzlawick, Bavelas-Beavin, and Jackson, 1967), and therefore we cannot not persuade (that comes from logic using the first two statements).  That’s what you are trying to do with your spots or promos—persuade listeners to do something, buy something, believe something, or whatever.


Second: How do people make decisions or eventually believe in or perceive something?  The information here comes from persuasion research, and what we know is that people pass through 5 Stages of Communication/Persuasion in order to make a decision.  The stages are: Unawareness, Awareness, Comprehension, Conviction, and Action.


The “Action” stage is where people buy a product, try a new radio station, believe in something, or whatever.  It is the culmination of information received from one or many sources.


OK.  Do you have that so far?  All people…all people...pass through five stages in the communication/persuasion process for any decision.  This is universal and it is a rule without exception.


We understand the communication/persuasion process very well.  Specifically, we know that all people pass through the stages before making a decision, and we know that in order to get people to pass through the stages, there must be repetition of the message.  One exposure may work for some things—“I’ll give you $1 million if you recite the alphabet backwards.”—but in virtually all other cases, multiple exposures are required.


How many exposures?  Well….therein lies the problem.  We don’t know.  While we do know a lot about how the communication/persuasion process works, we don’t know (and can’t predict) how many message exposures are necessary to move people through the stages.  That’s the fact, Jack, and there is no one in the universe who knows or can predict the correct number.  No one.  Nada.  Zilch.


Now…some people never get to the Action stage even after hundreds or thousands of exposures.  I can verify this with my youngest son, Buckwheat, who, after hearing thousands of times that “The grass needs to be cut on Saturday” never got the message.  He had to be reminded every Saturday, and I’m sure he is happy to be living on his own now.


OK, back to your question about 3.4 exposures to a message.  If we know how persuasion works, but we don’t know how many exposures are necessary to reach the Action stage, then where in the heck did this stuff come from about 3.0 or 3.4 exposures?  Who started this falsehood?


To find that answer, we need to flashback to the 1960s and 1970s.  Two people are credited for the information about the number of exposures necessary.  The only problem is that they are falsely credited.


1.  In 1966, Colin McDonald, then working for the British Market Research Bureau in London, conducted a research project for J. Walter Thompson about advertising.  McDonald’s study was about the relationship between advertising exposures and buying behavior, NOT the frequency of advertising messages required for a campaign.  But that is how the study was interpreted.


2.  In 1972, Dr. Herbert Krugman, then head of market research at General Electric, published an article in the Journal of Advertising Research about how consumers pass through three stages in their response to advertising.  This information was falsely equated to the McDonald research about three exposures, and the urban legend about three exposures took off.


In later writings, both McDonald and Krugman explained that their research was misinterpreted.  But that didn’t matter.  Three exposures became the “rule of thumb.”  In reality, however, three exposures became the law for anyone involved in media advertising.  A “law” based on misinformation or misinterpretation of data.  Neat, eh?


3.  In 1995, Professor John Philip Jones (Syracuse University, S.I. Newhouse School) published a book, When Ads Work that encouraged a rethinking of the three exposure “rule of thumb.”


One characteristics of scientific research is that it is self-correcting.  Any research finding is always open for further research, and the further research may debunk previous findings.  In the case of the three exposure “rule,” the results have been debunked (and corrected), but the belief that three exposures is “right” still continues.


So here is my final answer, Regis, to your question about the frequency formula:

  1. Forget the formula. It’s wrong and so are all the other formulas that suggest the correct number of exposures.  All of the formulas are based on urban legend, folklore, misinformation, and Vulpes Fulva leavings.  Forget ALL of them.

  2. Air as many promos as you can because you don’t know how many you need.

  3. Your decision will be as “right” as the person who says you need 3 exposures, or 10 exposures, or any other number.

OK.  The basics are done. But I want to add a few things:


In the course of searching for information to answer your question, I found some very interesting things that you might wish to pursue:


1.  In a 1997 article by Paul Feldwick entitled, How many ads are enough? in which he discusses the three exposure “rule,” he states:


“It may seem surprising that a mistaken interpretation of data can lead to a generally held belief which remains uncorrected, even by its original author, for some thirty years. But anyone who reads this book [McDonald’s rewrite] with attention will understand how easily and frequently ‘effective frequency’ debates can be misunderstood and misrepresented by those who attempt to reduce the complexity of the evidence to simple rules.


2.  There is an interesting study funded by Microsoft that investigates the optimal number of exposures required for audio messages.  The study found that somewhere between 6 and 20 exposures are best.  (But that doesn’t mean the study is correct.  Remember, a characteristic of scientific research is that it is self-correcting.)


3.  Search the Internet for (use the quotes) “Colin McDonald” three exposures and  “Dr. Herbert Krugman” three exposures for more information about the three exposure rule of thumb.

Advertising Agency Percent and Rates

Here’s a two-part question for you.


1.  Back to basic math.  How do you compute an agency 15% discount...say a net rate is $10.  What is the calculation to get the gross $?


2.  What is your suggestion on how to raise rates?  Any good books on the subject?


Thanks.  Still learning after all these years. - Anonymous


Anon:  I hope you don’t stop learning.  Here are your answers:


1.  To compute the gross for your rate, divide the net number by .85 (assuming the agency’s commission is 15%).  For your $10 net, the gross is $11.76 (10/.85 = $11.76).  You don’t simply add 15% to your net, which would be $11.50.  If you did that, and subtract 15% from $11.50, your net would be only $9.77.  The loss doesn’t seem like much for one spot, but it would be significant if your schedule were $50,000.  You would lose $1,323.


2.  How to raise rates?  I asked my friend, Larry Barnes (former CEO of Media Resources) to respond to your question.  He said:


“To me, raising rates is always relative to what the market will bear.  Or…at what point will regular customers feel the need to seek another supplier for the service you provide?  If they already shop others, you need to protect your customer list by not raising rates when others habitually do so.


We win customers because most media types raise their rates each year by some percentage that is usually more than the cost of living index.  Meanwhile their circulation numbers have actually declined.”


There are dozens of books on sales.  However, the main point, as mentioned by Larry Barnes, is what the market will bear.  You can raise rates if your product’s perceived value matches the increase.

Advertising Campaign - Male Demos

I am trying to put together an ad campaign that will effectively reach men 35+ who earn over $50K a year.  I am thinking News/Talk and Sports as my primary format selection, but I would like to find a research resource.  Can you help me? - Anonymous


Anon:  I’m not sure why you need your information (student, client, etc.), but you can get this information from a radio station.


However, if you can’t do that, here are a few alternatives:

  1. Go to Google and search for (include the quotes) "men 35-54" radio listening and "men 35-54" radio format.  You’re going to have a tough time finding information related to the $50K+ income.

  2. Another alternative on Google is to search for a specific product.  For example, if you’re looking for car purchases, search for "men 35+" car purchase.

  3. If you have a specific product to advertise, you might find something on the Radio Advertising Bureau site.  When you get there, go to the “Find It Fast” box at the top right of the home page to search for your product area.

  4. You can also check format listening on Arbitron’s “Format Trends” pages.  Click here to go there: Arbitron Formats.

Advertising - Cool Whip

Hey Doc, you rock!  Enough rhyming.  Recently I have been hearing national ads for “Cool Whip.”  I think to myself, “what a waste of advertising money!”  Isn’t it a gimme that you’re gonna buy “Cool Whip” for Thanksgiving dinner?  Am I alone here? - Anonymous


Anon:  Thanks for the comment.  I’m glad you like the column.  Now to your question…


Hmm…don’t make me come out there.  I would imagine Cool Whip advertising is a good decision by Kraft Foods for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to:

  1. If you search the Internet, you’ll find that there are dozens of brands of whipped cream.  Why do you think that all people—or even most people or even some people, or even anyone else other than you for that matter—thinks of  Cool Whip when they think of whipped cream?  I don’t because I make my own.  I also just called my oldest son and he didn’t mention Cool Whip when I asked him to name a type of whipped cream.  I know that is only a sample of two people, but my guess is that there are others who fall into the same category.  Cool Whip is not the only type of whipped cream available to consumers.  You make think so, but you, as they say in Atlanta, don’t be right.

  2. I don’t think it’s a “gimme” that all people are going to buy Cool Whip for Thanksgiving dinner.  First, I’m sure there are some people who won’t have a Thanksgiving dinner at all.  Second, I’m sure there are people who will have Thanksgiving dinner but won’t have ANY type of whipped cream.  Wait just a minute.  I’m going to call my neighbor.  OK…I did.  I asked her if she was going to have whipped cream for Thanksgiving dinner.  She said, “No, we don’t like whipped cream.”  I know, that’s only a sample of one, but it proves that not all people have whipped cream for Thanksgiving dinner.

  3. Are you alone here in thinking that Cool Whip advertising is a waste of money?  I don’t know.  I don’t have any research on the topic.  However, I can say that you need to understand the purpose of advertising (to communicate a message) and the fact that not all people know everything about anything or that they all like and dislike the same things.  That’s why companies advertise.  They attempt to communicate a message to a variety of people…some who know about their products and services, and some who don’t.

Advertising - Cool Whip Follow-Up

Hey doc, I asked some people I work with, and everyone at my family get together for the holidays and they all said Cool Whip was a gimme.  Don’t worry, you still rock! - Anonymous


Anon:  I’m happy to hear that I still rock, but I won’t worry that you found something different than I did about the familiarity with Cool Whip.  Your little “test” provides a good demonstration of what can happen with research sampling.


You demonstrated the concept of sampling error in that your sample differed from mine, that you should not use only one sample when testing a concept or phenomenon, and that you shouldn’t rely on a small sample to make a decision about anything.  Oh, you also demonstrated what happens in the research methodology known as cohort analysis.  A cohort is a group of people who share things like behaviors, perceptions, and philosophies (similar radio station's target audience).  The cohort in your “study” is more aware of Cool Whip than the cohort involved in my “test.”

Advertising Definition

Many people have asked for my definition of advertising, so here it is:


Any form of audio, visual, or environmental communication by a business or individual that intentionally or unintentionally affects one or more of the five senses.

Advertising Morning Show

How can a stand-alone station trying to build a local morning show survive against a network that is supported by TV?  What should be our basics to win local respect without any other media support?  Thank you for your time. - JP


JP: Regardless of the type of business you are in, you will almost always have a competitor who has more money, more personnel, better facilities, and so on.  That's the way things go and you'll have to deal with what you have, not what you don't have.


In your case, it sounds as though you are the "little guy" on the block.  My response is: So what?  Just because your competitor is a "network that is supported by TV" doesn't mean that they are providing what the listeners want.  What your radio station needs to do is follow the three steps to success that I have mentioned countless times in this column:


1.  Find out what the listeners want.

2.  Give it to them.

3.  Tell them that you gave it to them.


Now, my guess is that you will say that your radio station doesn't have money for research, but that's what you need to do in order to fulfill the first step.  You must find out what the listeners want so you can provide those things to them in a creative way—different from what your competitor is doing.


Next, the competitor is supported by TV and you can't afford that.  That doesn't mean you should just give up.  Decades of research have shown that one of the most successful forms of advertising is word-of-mouth.  If you provide a product that the listeners want, they will talk about your radio station with their friends.  Forget about the competitor's TV support.  Concentrate on developing a unique product the listeners want and you'll get noticed.  After that, you'll have more listeners and more money and you might even decide to use TV yourself to get some additional exposure.


While advertising is an essential part of any business, advertising alone doesn't create (or guarantee) success.  To succeed, a company must have a good product (or idea).  That's what you need first—a good product.  Work on that first and then concentrate on external advertising.  A radio station with good programming and no advertising will always beat a radio station that has a lot of advertising but inferior programming.


Finally, let's say that your competitor does have good programming.  That shouldn't get you down because there are many ways to give your listeners what they want.  That's the art of radio programming.  If you're up against a good radio station, then you need to find a way to take a unique approach.

Advertising Recall

I have a client (car dealer) that is considering dropping radio from his marketing mix because, he says, he sources each sale and rarely does anyone mention my station. His customers usually say they found out about my client simply by driving past his location. How would you handle this situation? Can you direct me toward some research/information on advertising recall? - LB


LB: Check with There is a lot of information there.


Your car dealer is yanking your chain. When I sold radio in a small market, I had a client say the same thing to me. I talked him into a "research study" of sorts. We put a unique ad on our radio station—can’t remember what we said, but the information wasn’t publicized anywhere else—only a schedule on the radio station.


While the spots were running, and a few weeks after that, he asked every customer where he/she found out about the promotion. Not one mentioned radio. What I told him was, "Look, if you invest the money in radio, you’ll also get ‘coverage’ in the newspapers, on billboards, and a few other places." Talk about a great investment. Who cares where customers think they find out about things as long as they find out about them.


Radio is the best advertising medium because it meets three qualifications…it allows an advertiser to repeat a message as often as he/she wants to, the advertiser isn’t competing with any other company when his/her spot is on (as is the case with newspapers and others), and it is the cheapest investment.


Repetition is the only way to persuade and radio is the best way to accomplish this. Case closed. Have your client call me—I’ll set him straight. My office number is 303.914.9623.

Advertising Repetition

I’m in sales and deal with reach and frequency all the time.  What is the ideal number of exposures to a message for an advertisement?  We usually try to achieve three exposures to a message.  Is that the best number? - Anonymous


Anon:  I have never seen a scientific study that documents the ideal number of exposures to a message for it to be maximally affective.  Historically, three exposures has been used as a target, but there is no evidence that I know about to support that number.


Persuasion occurs via repetition of a message.  Three exposures may be adequate for some people, but others may require only one or two exposures and others may require hundreds of exposures.  I think the “rule” of three exposures became popular because it’s easy to deal with and seems logical (but it isn't according to persuasion theory).

Advertising Synergy

Can you explain the term “advertising synergy?”  Thanks. - RP


RP:  Advertising synergy can refer to two things: (1) A company’s use of similar advertising approaches for all its products or services to attempt to create a sense of uniformity or consistency; or (2) A company’s use of several media to advertise the same product or service.


In the first use, a company like Dell, for example, might use the same type of TV commercial regardless of the specific computer being advertised.  Among other things, it is hoped that consumers will more easily recognize a Dell TV commercial because of the similarity in approach.


In the second use, companies that use several media to communicate their message do so because they don’t “put all their eggs in one basket.”  That is, they to attempt to reach the largest audience rather than concentrate on repetition of a message (the most effective persuasive approach).  Coors, for example, advertises its beer on virtually all of the mass media and even many non-mass media vehicles such as flyers or neon signs in bars.

Adds - Dates

OK, here’s a question that will show you how new I am to programming. Why do record companies give us add dates? I mean, what happens if we play a song before the intended add date (whether it’s intentionally or accidentally)? - Anonymous


Anon: Because the record companies and artists want a specific launch date. It’s just like a movie where Hollywood companies set a date for release and everything is geared to that date.


Several years ago, record companies and artists got very upset at radio stations that played songs before their scheduled release date. The radio stations did this so they could say, "We were first to play the new song by ______." This did not sit well with record companies and artists who want to make sure that the song is available at music stores when the song begins to play on the radio.


There’s nothing fancy here.  All companies set launch/start dates for products/services and they don’t want things to start until all the pieces are in place.

Adds - 2

Based on your experiences, at what point (is there a threshold) should a library based mainstream AC type station add a current song? I'm talking about stations like WLTW, KOST, etc. Is there a number that when reached, the PD should deem the song OK for airplay? (4+5 on 1-5 scales, familiar or whatever.) - Anonymous

Anon: I have been involved in this discussion hundreds of times and know many "rules," but I wanted to get a current read on what’s going on. Since I am not a programmer, I referred your question to several well-known programmers in the AC world. I promised anonymity as well as a "general" summary of what they said—not their exact words. I want to make sure that I don’t give away any trade secrets.

What I learned is that there is no set rule for adding songs. The rule depends on your radio station’s guidelines, goals, and overall approach. Generally speaking, however, these people are not quick to add songs. If they conduct callout, they wait for the song to have a high familiarity and high score (various combinations of highest ratings). If they don’t conduct callout, they wait for other stations in the market to test new music for them. If the song is a hit, they add it when the other stations drop it to a recurrent.

If you don’t go with one of those ideas, there is a third approach. One person, who no longer uses callout, uses the AC charts in R & R. The "rule" goes something like this: watch the top 5 to 10 songs in all of the AC charts. When a song ranks in the top 10 (or the top 3 or 5 etc.) in all AC charts for a minimum of 5 weeks, it’s time to add the song.

Finally, for the people who use familiarity and rating scores, most said that they use the same rules for adding currents and library songs.

Adds - 3

I asked Jhani Kaye (KRTH-FM in Los Angeles) to respond to the question about record companies and adding music. He sent this response . . .


Although I have never worked for a record company, I’ll say this: Record companies are like any business. They want their marketing/promotion campaigns to be well focused in order to maximize the results. For them, having radio add a song within a particular time frame helps to better propel the song up the charts. It is far better to have 40 stations add a song within a two-week period than over a month. It will result in the song having a bullet on the charts, generating even more adds, and the cycle goes on. In addition, record companies want to support radio stations that are playing the songs with advertising (sometimes buys are placed on the same stations playing the song). It also insures that the record company will have the song in the stores so that your listeners aren't searching for it in vain.


Sometimes playing a song before its release date can actually hurt a project. For instance, if you decide to play a cut from an artist's CD a month or so prior to the release/marketing campaign, the likelihood of you having it in a hot rotation when the song/print/television/etc. are in the field will be diminished.


Think of it as holding an "open house" before the furniture has arrived. The impression is not the same.  These are just a few of the reasons why record companies establish "add dates." I'm sure there are many others.


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