This is typically measured on two dimensions: frequency and spread
To maximize overall awareness, the advertising must reach the maximum number of the target audience. There is a limit for the last few percent of the general population who don't see the main media advertisers use. These are more expensive to reach. The 'cumulative' coverage cost typically follows an exponential curve. Reaching 90 percent can cost double what it costs to reach 70 percent, and reaching 95 percent can double the cost yet again. In practice, the coverage decision rests on a balance between desired coverage and cost. A large budget achieves high coverage—a smaller budget limits the ambitions of the advertiser.
- Frequency—Even with high coverage, it is insufficient for a target audience member to have just one 'Opportunity To See' (OTS) the advertisement. In traditional media, around five OTS are believed required for a reasonable impact. To build attitudes that lead to brand switching may require more. To achieve five OTS, even in only 70 percent of the overall audience, may require 20 or 30 peak-time transmissions of a commercial, or a significant number of insertions of press advertisements in the national media. As these figures suggest, most consumers simply don't see the commercials that often (whereas the brand manager, say, sees every one and has already seen them many times before their first transmission, and so is justifiably bored).
The life of advertising campaigns can often extend beyond the relatively short life usually expected. Indeed, as indicated above, some research shows that advertisements require significant exposure to consumers before they even register. As David Ogilvy long ago recommended, "If you are lucky enough to write a good advertisement, repeat it until it stops selling. Scores of good advertisements have been discarded before they lost their potency."
More sophisticated media planners also look at the 'spread' of frequencies. Ideally all of the audience should receive the average number of OTS. Those who receive fewer are insufficiently motivated, and extra advertising is wasted on those who receive more. It is, of course, impossible to achieve this ideal. As with coverage, the pattern is weighted towards a smaller number—of heavy viewers, for example—who receive significantly more OTS, and away from the difficult last few percent. However, a good media buyer manages the resulting spread of frequencies to weigh it close to the average, with as few audience members as possible below the average.
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