Media planners have long promoted the importance of frequency.
It even features in media vendors’ marketing:
The frequency rationale stems from numerous studies that have shown how repetition helps us remember things.
But does remembering an advert automatically mean that it has been effective?
Consider the frequency with which the intended audience sees this message:
It’s doubtful whether frequency alone will make this message any more resonant.
So how can we use frequency more effectively?
The answer lies in how we manage people’s expectations.
Repeated exposure to the same thing results in familiarity.
This familiarity can be good or bad, depending on the context.
On the one hand, familiarity makes branding possible: by making a product or service recognisable, people can become familiar with it and remember it.
This familiarity results in certain expectations, and allows us to shortcut certain cognitive processes.
Such shortcutting is very helpful when it comes to making the same decision again and again, but it can also cause problems.
Because when we think we know the answer to something, we tend to spend less time thinking about it.
This has significant implications for advertising.
The law of diminishing returns contends that each additional interaction with a piece of advertising delivers less impact than the previous one.
In other words, if we’ve seen an advert before, we will pay less attention to it on the next encounter.
However, this is only true if we experience what we expect.
If a repeat experience is broadly the same as its predecessor, but also contains an element of variation, it can potentially deliver even greater impact.
This concept might benefit from a musical analogy.
“Canon”‘s appeal lies in the way it evolves over time: a melodic riff repeats throughout the piece, but each repetition of the riff is slightly different.
This variation-on-a-theme approach works equally well in communications, and is central to some of the world’s most famous advertising:
One of the reasons why these campaigns are so effective is that much of the audience’s interpretation of the message is shortcut: because they’ve seen similar communications before, they already understand what each new creative is trying to tell them.
However, the variation on the creative theme gently challenges their expectations, allowing the brand to refresh its relationship with them.
So, when you’re planning frequency, don’t just think in terms of repetition: constantly repeating the same thing is much less effective than delivering numerous variations on a similar theme.
The Thais express the optimum approach beautifully:
“Same same, but different.”