Knowing When to Advertise Is Key

Aug 23, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The familiar poem in Ecclesiastes says, “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven.” This includes, of course, a time to run advertising, but the question is when. In this piece we explore some of the scheduling considerations that affect media planning. We think of them in three broad areas: product marketing considerations, media characteristics and media effects.

Product Marketing


Timing ad support for new-product introductions can be tricky. The product or service must be available when the ads hit, though advertising can be used to pull distribution. Our study of packaged-goods introductions (TelevisionWeek, April 26) found most new brands run a coupon at least a month before the start of television. Past introductions were accompanied by a strong heavy-up, but these days most new products are line extensions that are supported by only modest weight increases. Timing of sustaining support depends on consumption patterns.

Although many brands attempt to advertise continuously, heavy-ups can be timed to run in the “shoulder months” that lead purchase of seasonal goods and services such as winter tires, summer vacations, outdoor personal products and so on. Usage considerations can influence ad timing. Products that are heavily used on the weekends may concentrate weight on Thursday and Friday. Ads for weight-reduction plans have the most impact after the holidays. Products that are used in response to an external event may schedule ads according to a trigger: winter tires advertised when there is a snow alert; hay fever medication ads triggered by the local pollen count; insect repellent ads aired after a rise in the mosquito population.

Media Characteristics

These relate to when the ad is actually seen. The typical flow chart shows the weekly delivery of radio, television, out-of-home and newspapers. Digital video recorders such as TiVo threaten to delay television ad exposure, though Nielsen’s DVR Re-contact Study found 96 percent of recorded programs are played back within seven days. For most media, exposure is instantaneous or on the day of publication.

Not so for magazines. MRI’s Audience Accumulation study sheds new light on the way this medium builds audience. As expected, weeklies reach most of their readers in the first week, but readership of monthlies stretches over more than half a year. Planners should analyze their proposed schedule with MRI’s Cume+ system or its online equivalent to ensure timing of the ad exposure is appropriate for the marketing objectives.

Television plans are typically based on one-week gross ratings points, but reach is measured over four weeks. Our analysis of Nielsen data shows the same GRPs yield slightly more reach when scattered over a longer period of time, especially at the higher levels. However, the difference is less than expected. Fifty GRPs of prime time concentrated in one week reaches 35.7 percent of adults 25 to 54 one or more times. Scattering those same points over four weeks increases reach slightly to 36.2 percent. Two hundred GRPs in one week will reach 64.3 percent; stretching the schedule over four and eight weeks increases reach to a little over 70 percent.

This confirms our understanding that television reach depends primarily on the number of GRPs and their dispersion across networks and dayparts. Keeping the mix and GRP levels constant, reach is only slightly affected by the number of weeks over which they appear.

Media Effects

As we think about timing, we are also concerned with the impact of the ad on the viewer. Television ratings measure the number of people immediately exposed to a commercial. But the effect of that exposure lasts much longer. Because this memory influences sales, it is a key part of econometric return-on-investment models. It is quantified as adstock-residual GRPs from past weeks that are added to this week’s actual rating points to indicate media’s total influence on sales.

Adstock GRPs typically decrease about 10 percent per week after the points are aired. But since the exact number is generated by proprietary models long after the advertising runs, it is not a consideration for media planners. They should understand the term as part of their general professional knowledge, and they should be aware the concept is used to evaluate the effect of advertising in the marketing mix.

No discussion of timing in media planning would be complete without mentioning Erwin Ephron’s now widely accepted “shelf space model of media planning.” The model is based on research that shows the first exposure has the greatest influence on sales.

Since there is always somebody in the market, advertisers should deliver at least one exposure (reach) to as many people as possible each week. Plans should be evaluated in terms of weekly reach points delivered. So spreading 2,600 GRPs at 100 GRPs/week over 26 weeks, reaching 50 percent each week (26 x 50 = 1,300 points) will be less effective than running 67 GRPs/week for 39 weeks, reaching 40 percent each week (39 x 40 = 1,560 points).

The recency model suggests that consistent low-level advertising is preferable to concentrating weight in flights. There are a number of budgetary, marketing and media factors that challenge the model, but it is an excellent starting point.

Roger Baron is senior VP, media research director, for Foote Cone & Belding.