When Ad Frequency Goes Too Far (or Not Far Enough)

When Ad Frequency Goes Too Far (or Not Far Enough)

Digital ad frequencies

If you’re on the hunt to learn more about digital ad frequency best practices, then welcome—you have come to the right place. Before we dive into the deep end of best practices, I’ll give it to you straight. Based on my industry research and average weekly impressions, these are our recommended frequencies for digital ads on the top platforms:

If you’ve got your answer and you’re not interested in anything more, then that’s great. But if you want to understand why these are our recommendations, read on for a closer look at what this means for your brand’s ads.

First, here comes a dreaded sentence that plagues every marketer’s stress dreams: the averages above are not a one-size-fits-all solution; rather, they are general starting points for your A/B ad testing. So, let me give you some tools you can use to navigate your frequency sweet spot.

What is ad frequency?

It’s key to start by understanding the definition of ad frequency: “the number of times an advertisement gets shown to a user over a specified period of time.” But don’t get it twisted, a frequency of two doesn’t necessarily mean that each person who saw your ad saw it exactly two times. Most advertising platforms list ad frequency as an average, so a frequency of two means that some consumers saw your ad once while others could have seen it as many as 10 or more times. So, for marketers who don’t want to induce ad fatigue, platforms often have a frequency cap feature where you can set the maximum number of times a user can see your ad.

What frequency is right for my brand?

The industry averages differ based on a plethora of criteria, including whether your brand is:

  • a B2B or B2B business,
  • a new brand or a well-known enterprise, or
  • working to achieve visibility or traffic.

For example, a new B2B brand looking to increase brand awareness will likely set a much higher frequency cap than a well-established B2C brand looking to drive web traffic. 

How do I evaluate ad frequency?

Evaluating ad performance is the best way to determine what frequency to target. If you’re unhappy with the results of your digital ad, no matter what platform you’re on, one of the first places you’ll want to look for issues is frequency. Most ad platforms, like Google, measure your ad quality based on relevance, estimated engagement, landing page experience, etc. Oftentimes, low ad quality will point to high frequency. Why? After seeing the same ad over and over and over, users will lose it and click on the “please, for f*** sake, never show me this ad again” button. I don’t need to be the one to tell you that you don’t want that to happen. Therefore, if your ad quality is low and your frequency is high, you’re gonna want to restructure your ad, and maybe even add a frequency cap.

So, now you have your industry standard and tools to find your magic frequency, but what if you want to run offline or traditional ads? Well, then keep reading (or skimming, that’s okay with me).

Traditional ad frequencies

According to the advertising “rule of seven,” a consumer needs to see an ad at least seven times before they take action. Furthermore, data from Nielsen’s (now defunct and inaccessible) Digital Brand Effect report revealed that, in Australia, an ad frequency between five to nine times increases the resonance of a brand by more than 50%. (But hey, that study was from over seven years ago. Things have changed.)

Isn't a higher ad frequency better?

Some (dare I say wrong) marketers argue that high frequency reminds consumers to buy their products and/or services. And to a certain extent, I’d agree—especially given my Dory the fish-like memory. Yet, today’s consumers are more intelligent consumers than ever. They’re more empowered to find brands that align with their values, even up to the small details like a brand’s sense of humor in messaging. If they don’t like puns and you run a TV ad with four puns in it, they’ll be inclined to switch the channel (or check their phone) every time your ad comes on the screen. Furthermore, depending on the offline ad type, like mail inserts, frequency can quickly turn from creating brand retention to what I call customer exile. We all know an ad that we’ve seen so much that we deliberately choose other brands out of spite (or maybe I’m just extra spiteful). In any case, at a point, frequency no longer becomes retargeting but re-agitating.

The tricky part about traditional ads is that marketers are less likely to be able to determine frequency. So what do you do? 

How do I track traditional ad frequency?

In cases where you’re not able to set frequency caps on traditional marketing efforts, the best thing you can do to ensure that your ad aligns with your target audience is to test the ad (or parts of it) online or in focus groups. Even if you publish the ad on organic social media, you’ll get a gauge of how consumers will respond to it.

If you want to skip testing and take your ads straight to print but want to avoid annoying your audience, exclude any potentially bothersome music, voiceovers, visuals and storylines. Sometimes, it can be difficult to understand which factor would drive a consumer bananas, but a good rule of thumb is to imagine that you are stuck in a room looking at the ad. How many times you watch the ad on a loop or how many minutes you could stare at the ad before becoming disinterested or irritated would be the hypothetical frequency you’d want to maintain. From there, you can take out the parts of the ad that began to drive you wild. At the end of the day, if you can’t set a frequency cap, you can certainly set an aggravation cap. 

Gigi Toma,
Account Manager

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