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  • Tyler Harman

Reach & Frequency: Advice from Bill Bernbach

In terms of advertising greats like David Ogilvy, Leo Burnette, Rosser Reeves, Claude Hopkins... Bill Bernbach was the GOAT. Especially in terms of marketing wisdom for others to follow like this gem:

"Do you want to sell 100% of the audience 10% of the way, or 10% of the audience 100% of the way?" Today we're talking about a very basic concept: reach and frequency.

Understanding Reach & Frequency

Everyone has been, still is, and most likely will be, forever obsessed with getting as much reach as possible for their budget. So, let's spend a couple minutes and do a quick thought experiment. Indulge me.

You have $500 to spend on radio ads. (I know, I said indulge me.) There's two stations:

  • Station One: 100,000 listeners, $5 CPM

  • Station Two: 10,000 listeners, $10 CPM

Obvious, right? More reach, half the CPM. Station One all the way!

Let's look at the numbers:

  • Station One, you spend $500, and you can reach all 100,000 listeners.

  • Station Two, you spend $500, and you reach all 10,000 listeners, 5 times each.

Wait, now you're leaning towards Station Two a little more, right? It depends on what you're promoting, let's use an example of polar opposites:

  • Are you trying to sell seats for the monster truck rally happening this weekend? If so, go with Station One.

  • Are you a jewelry store trying to build trust over the next 12 months? If so, go with Station Two.

But I get the sense that most people reading this are in the "building trust" bucket, so let's talk more about that.

How Many Impressions Do You Need to Make A Sale?

One of my favorite little advertising "poems" was written back in 1885 by a guy named Thomas Smith (maybe, the details are a little hazy when I research it):

  • The first time a man looks at an advertisement, he does not see it.

  • The second time, he does not notice it.

  • The third time, he is conscious of its existence.

  • The fourth time, he faintly remembers having seen it before.

  • The fifth time, he reads it.

  • The sixth time, he turns up his nose at it.

  • The seventh time, he reads it through and says, “Oh brother!”

  • The eighth time, he says, “Here’s that confounded thing again!”

  • The ninth time, he wonders if it amounts to anything.

  • The tenth time, he asks his neighbor if he has tried it.

  • The eleventh time, he wonders how the advertiser makes a profit.

  • The twelfth time, he thinks it must be a good thing.

  • The thirteenth time, he thinks perhaps it might be worth something.

  • The fourteenth time, he remembers wanting such a thing a long time ago.

  • The fifteenth time, he is tantalized because he cannot afford to buy it.

  • The sixteenth time, he thinks he will buy it some day.

  • The seventeenth time, he makes a memorandum to buy it.

  • The eighteenth time, he swears at his poverty.

  • The nineteenth time, he counts his money carefully.

  • The twentieth time he sees the ad, he buys what it is offering.

About 100 years later, Jay Levinson wrote the book Guerrilla Marketing in 1984. In that book, he suggested that we needed 37 impressions. So, over 100 years, the number impressions needed to make a sale has doubled from 20 to 37.

Since then, we have the internet, banner ads, social media, text and email marketing, and more. How many impressions to you think you need today in 2023?

Impressions & Web Conversions

Ok, a little closer to home. Back in 2012-2013 when Facebook Ads was still in its infancy, Facebook brought in "The Godfather of AdSense", Gokul Rajaram, to beef up their advertising platform. He met so much resistance from experts at other platforms like Programmatic Display, Google, Twitter, etc. with everyone else saying that clicks and engagement was the main driver of conversion. Back then, Rajaram was the only one talking about impressions and the quality of those impressions and how they correlate with conversions.

I once heard a factoid from him, back in 2015, that the average number of ad impressions you needed on Facebook before someone installed an app was 7 times. (In an of itself, that detail doesn't amount to much, except the fact that they're paying close attention to these kinds of metrics, and have been for a long time.)

In conclusion.

When you're putting together an ad campaign, take into consideration who you're planning on reaching, and whether or not you have the budget and campaign setup to hit them again and again, and pummel them into submission?

But also, what ads are you showing them? Do those ads get better with time? Or worse? If you're expecting them to see those ads 10+ times before they take action, you better think about what you're showing them!

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