Reach x Frequency = Old Thinking

imageThe advertising industry prides itself on fresh thinking. The only consistent rule in advertising seems to be “There are no rules.” However, on the media-buying side of the business, there has been a rule that has driven thinking for almost a half century: Reach (R) x Frequency (F) = Gross Rating Points (GRPs). Reach measures how many people could potentially see your message, and frequency measures how many times those who are reached might see that message. Gross rating points purport to measure the “media tonnage” and effectiveness of a schedule delivered to a specific demographic audience. There is a more thorough discussion of the formula via Google Books.

The Reach/Frequency formula is an approximation at best, and its use was designed for a past era of mass media advertising when there were limited one-way media choices to reach a given audience. The formula’s usefulness in today’s fragmented, interactive and more precise, measurement-driven marketplace should be seriously questioned. Steve Rubel makes this same point in a recent post on his Micro Persuasion blog: The Moneyball Marketing Era. Rubel argues that it is a new game and what is needed is unconventional media-buying wisdom. His line of reasoning is appropriated from Michael Lewis’s popular book on baseball, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.

Sure, you still need to reach your audience with your advertising message, but today you need to have far more insight into just who your audience is. Then you need to know not only how to reach them, but when to reach them and what media options are best for engaging that audience in your brand, product, service or message.

And, by the way, creativity is as critical as ever, because emotion still trumps logic when it comes to engaging people. However, in today’s frenetic media environment, creativity on the media planning side is equally critical to success as the creativity that goes into fashioning an attention-getting message.

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