Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Time is Now

(continued from What is Advertising? (Revisited), see 4/19/07 below)

We may not be certain how to define advertising, or how advertising works, but oddly enough we have accumulated some research over the years that tells us something about how much is needed to make it work. Here is a question that has challenged media planners and advertisers for decades: How much advertising exposure is enough?

With finite resources that must be allocated as optimally as we can conceive, this question gives us a strategic choice and puts us at risk. If we advertise with too little pressure, our efforts may not have enough impact to show measurable results. If we advertise too much, we squander precious resources where we have already done our job. We face the risk of too little advertising pressure versus the risk of too much.

When we distill this challenge down to its basic elements, the strategic decision we media planners make goes something like this: if we could only afford to send one advertising message to one person, we could probably identify who that message should go to. The strategic challenge of advertising pressure arises when we can afford to send out the next message. Do we repeat the message to the same person, or do we send it to a new person? When should we send it?

If we can afford to send a third message, the strategic choices increase to six. If we also have the option of sending different messages to each person each time, the choices increase exponentially. What can we use to guide our strategic decision?

What Shape Are You In?
Although we may not always think of it in these terms, the key to making strategic decisions about advertising pressure lies with our expectation of the shape of the advertising response curve.

S-Shaped Curve
The S-shaped advertising response curve was the dominant model for media planning from the 1970s, and it suggests that advertising must reach a threshold level before it becomes effective. This was typically expressed by setting a communication goal of achieving a “3+ reach” for the advertising to be deemed “effective” (i.e. to achieve a desired response).

Concave downward
Another school of thought held that the advertising response curve was shaped concave downward, and suggests that the highest response rate occurs after the first exposure and diminishes thereafter. This also suggests that the most effective ad is the one closest to the purchase decision.

In a landmark 1995 study, John Philip Jones used single-source research to measure the short-term effects of advertising on sales. Single-source, unavailable prior to the Jones study, tracked both the media exposure and purchases of a single sample. Jones measured each household’s reception of advertising for specific advertised brands and related this to the purchasing of these same brands by the same household shortly after the advertising.

The analysis drew a startling conclusion: one exposure generates the highest proportion of sales, and additional exposures add very little to the effect of the first.

The Jones study gave support for the concave downward advertising response model and ushered in its practical application in “recency” planning. “Recency planning is based on the sensible idea that most advertising works by influencing the brand choice of consumers who are ready to buy,” noted Erwin Ephron in the Journal of Advertising Research in 1997.

Ironically, in 1972, researcher Herbert Krugman had advanced the idea that there are only three “psychological” exposures:

1. “What is it?” – the first response is to understand the nature of the stimulus.
2. “What of it?” – the second exposure elicits a more personal response of whether or not the message has personal relevance.
3. Reminder/Disengagement – the third exposure is a true reminder, but also the beginning of disengagement by the viewer.

Krugman suggests that most viewers stop at the first psychological exposure until they are in the market for the product advertised. He goes on to say, “the importance of this view of things is that it positions advertising as powerful only when the viewer, the consumer, or shopper is interested…” In the 1970s, Krugman’s thesis was used to support the theory that 3+ exposures were needed to be effective, although clearly it is more supportive of the Recency theory…proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Woody Allen said, “80 percent of success is showing up.” A key point from advertising response research is that timing impacts advertising effectiveness. In most cases, emphasis should be placed on continuity and reach. A brand that is out of sight is out of mind.

What this also tells us, however, is how important the consumer is to the advertising equation. A targeted prospect may meet all the demographic and psychographic profile characteristics we are looking for, yet can still be unmotivated by the advertising because the timing is not right. For advertising to be effective, there has to be opportunity. There has to be a need, hope, or desire and the means for fulfillment on the part of the targeted prospect. A prospect with all the other right characteristics may not be moved today if the timing is wrong, but can be moved tomorrow if the timing becomes right. Where there is no opportunity, there is no sale.

(to be continued)


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