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Is your advertising strategy obsolete?

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Anyone who has ever done any advertising has probably heard of the Three-Time rule. Also known as “Effective Frequency,” this rule of thumb maintains that the consumer must hear and/or see your message at least three times in about a week before your product or service stands any chance of being noticed or purchased.

Advertisers have long followed this rule. It made sense. The consumer was only half paying attention anyway, and it took repetition to get through his thick skull. So, responsible media buyers everywhere took great pains to ensure their schedule was going to hit the audience over the head an average of three times each week while trying to reach as many potential consumers as possible.

Having obtained our goals, we would proudly report to our client that the proposed schedule will reach an estimated 90% of the target audience with an average weekly frequency of 3.74 – an expectable level for market impact. It sounds complicated (because advertising people sometimes like to sound complicated), but it`s really just common sense.

Translation – almost everyone we need to reach will see or hear the message a little more than three times a week, and that`s good.

At least we used to think that was good.

New research has led to a new theory that challenges the way we think about advertising. The Recency Theory radically asserts that consumers may not be thick-skulled after all. They are just not interested in everything all at once. Their attention is selective and is based on the needs they have in their lives. Joe Bob may not be interested in buying a car this year, so car ads have no meaning to him.

Bubba, however, is riding on two cylinders and is very interested in the latest 1.9% financing offer. If Bubba hears a spot for a great deal, it won`t take three times to compel him to move off the couch and get to the dealer. He only needs to hear the message once. Joe Bob, on the other hand, can hear it 20 times in a week, and it will only serve to chap his hide. It doesn`t meet his need, and no amount of repetition will create that need.

Contrary to conventional advertising beliefs that consumers are easy to manipulate, “recency” research gives the average consumer a lot more credit. Each person reacts and interacts with the messages they hear based on the wants and needs in their lives at the time the message is received. And the more recent to the purchase decision the message is received, the more effective the message is. Hence the name “Recency.”

If this catches on, it will dramatically affect the way to buy advertising. No more heavy schedules that hit consumers over the head three-plus times per week. Reaching each consumer more than once a week is a waste of money, and no advertiser I have ever worked with (except for a utility company before deregulation) has wanted to waste money. And no more on-again, off-again schedules. Be somewhere at all times. If you`re not on, your product or service is, in effect, “off the shelf” when the Bubbas need you.

Big clarification here – don`t confuse the idea of reaching your audience one time with running only one spot or one ad. That would definitely limit the number of people who see your message and leave out a whole chunk of potential customers. Variety is the key. Instead of running heavy schedules on two or three vehicles at a time, spread it around. Run on one medium but at different times of the day, or in different sections. Spreading the message around increases the chance to be seen without hitting the same consumers over and over again.

I`ve always liked the idea of advertising all the time, but with the present mentality being “the more, the better,” consistency hasn`t always been an easy sell. “Clump it all together,” a restaurateur once told me. “I want to own the media for a few weeks.” So I clumped, he “owned,” and sales jumped. Unfortunately, the impact didn`t last long, sales fell, and he had no budget left to support his message for the rest of the year.

Many advertisers think they have to “blow it out” to “blow” at all. Unfortunately, many advertisers don`t have this kind of budget, so they run inconsistently or not at all.

According to this new research, smaller businesses that didn`t think they could afford to get into the advertising arena should think again. And that`s what makes this new theory so exciting. Any amount of advertising can impact your success.

Don`t listen to the supposed “know-it-alls” who tell you if you can`t do it right, don`t do it at all. I was one of those, and I am happy to be choking back those words.

Betsy Tabor is VP/media director of The Ramey Agency, a full-service agency with offices in Jackson and Memphis. Questions and comments can be sent to btabor@tra.net.

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