Planning’s Top 5 Questions

Mar 24, 2003  •  Post A Comment

These days, planners have at their fingertips an enormous amount of information on virtually every advertising medium. They can find out how many people are exposed, how often, at what time, for how many minutes, with what demographic composition, with what reach and frequency, and so forth, ad infinitum.
Getting facts about a medium is easy. The challenge is to develop a plan that will most effectively deliver and communicate the advertising message. This involves intensely practical decisions that depend on inherently unknowable thoughts in the minds of the target audience. The challenge appears in the form of perennial questions to which there is no simple answer.
Some time ago we asked a group of senior media research professionals for their informal list of the five most commonly asked media questions. I have found that these questions stand the test of time and continue to be highly relevant-they are truly “perennial” questions.
1. How Much Is Enough?
This is the most common and the most difficult question. It takes many forms. What is the least I can spend and still have a successful introduction? If I have this many points against women 25 to 54, am I delivering enough weight against men? How many times does a person need to see an ad to be effectively communicated to? And the related question, what percent of my target do I need to reach that many times?
Typical considerations include reach/frequency objectives, a brand’s share of voice compared with its share of market, the product category’s historic advertising/sales ratio, experience with comparable products and brand profitability requirements. With luck, these various methods will point to similar spending and media weight levels.
2. Most Effective Medium?
We first have to ask, Effective at doing what? Different media have different strengths. Planners try to match the medium to the marketing objectives, but that doesn’t help if they are conflicting or unprioritized. Also, effectiveness is highly dependent on the creative. Many people think TV is the most effective medium for generating brand awareness, but this question comes up when TV is not appropriate or affordable. Finally, there are virtually no independent cross-media effectiveness studies.
3. The Best Environment?
This question assumes there is some prestige rub-off from the medium to the message. Many advertisers think the popularity of high-rated programs will transfer to the advertised products. But this is not proven. We do know they attract light viewers (that’s part of the reason they are high rated in the first place), but the top-rated shows carry such a heavy CPM premium that advertisers are forced to cut back on the number of units they can afford. We also know that the first position in a break has a larger audience than mid-positions, but pod position is typically beyond a buyer’s control.
4. Flighting or Continuity?
In past few years this age-old question has gotten new attention with the concept of “recency.” New scanner-based research suggests that the first exposure to a campaign generates the highest proportion of sales. Erwin Ephron uses this finding to support his “shelf-space model of media planning.” Each week people are shopping and buying, and so should be exposed to a brand’s message. Therefore, media plans should be evaluated in terms of cumulative weekly reach points. The familiar diminishing returns curve shows that reach builds rapidly at first, but beyond a certain point additional GRPs yield mostly (wasted) frequency. As a result, continuous low-level support (yielding proportionally higher reach each week) is preferable to concentrating weight in flights.
Taken to the extreme, planners would simply divide the available budget by 52 weeks, but this conflicts with the long-standing belief that there is a threshold below which advertising is ineffective. Most brands schedule a minimum of 50 to 70 target GRPs per week, but relatively few can afford to run for a year at this level. Planners must also take into account the effect of competitive weight, the need for consumer and trade promotion synergy, product seasonality and other factors.
5. Is an Ad Too Old?
This is a tough one. It’s hard enough to know what a commercial “does” when it is fresh, no less when it is worn-out. Wear-out is another variation of the first question, How much is enough? Many planners use the apocryphal rule of thumb that a commercial is worn-out when the heaviest 20 percent of viewers have seen it 26 times. Although this provides a benchmark against which to judge a given situation, many questions remain. Should the 26 times rule be applied to each execution? To the entire campaign with similar but different executions? Over how many months? What about long hiatus periods? One researcher observed, “With wear-out there is always a hidden agenda-the agency wants to make a new spot and the client doesn’t, or vice versa. The math is just a smoke screen.”
To Sum Up …
Unlike simple facts about a medium, these perennial questions deal with the effect of advertising-how it is perceived in the mind of each person who is exposed. There is a wealth of information that can provide guidance, but in the end, the planner must use judgment to apply these general findings from the past to specific plans for the future.
Mr. Baron’s column appears monthly in TelevisionWeek. He is senior VP and director of media research at Foote Cone & Belding, Chicago.
Besides co-authoring the book “Advertising Media Planning,” he is a principal of Roger Baron & Associates. Send e-mail to him at rBBaron@ attbi.com.