Media planning secrets

Few advertisers in Canada have media planning specialists on staff. They rely on the expertise of their advertising agency. But media departments face unprecedented pressures from clients and agency management to keep media planning and buying costs down. There are consequences.

Few advertisers in Canada have media planning specialists on staff. They rely on the expertise of their advertising agency. But media departments face unprecedented pressures from clients and agency management to keep media planning and buying costs down. There are consequences.

Media innovation is too often merely a one-off clever idea that fits with current creative, integrating creative and media in a new way – rather than a disciplined approach that will have long-term ramifications for the advertiser. True innovation might well be to challenge some of the old paradigms about how advertising works. Is there a chance that recent new learning would cause us to veer from the status quo?

In 1993, at the inaugural Canadian Congress of Advertising, JWT senior executive George Clements said: ‘We know a lot about advertising. But much of what we know is not true.’

At that same conference, Cambridge advertising professor John Philip Jones’s topic was ‘Is Most Advertising a Waste of Money?’ He said Philadelphia retail magnate John Wanamaker’s well-known phrase is essentially true and should be taken seriously: ‘I know half my advertising is wasted – I just don’t know which half.’ His econometric research has demonstrated that ‘the long-term success rate of advertising is reduced to 46% of cases.’

He talked about ‘STAS,’ Short Term Advertising Strength. He noted that ‘without a short-term effect from advertising, there will be no long-term effect!’

I was there. But I missed the significance of what Professor Jones was saying.

He didn’t use the word, but he was providing the building blocks for ‘recency’: the discipline of delivering media messages in a way that increases the likelihood of reaching more people with a message close to the time of their purchase decision, i.e., ‘recent.’ His published research indicates the first advertising impression is generally more powerful in influencing behavior than subsequent impressions. Jones demonstrates that the traditional 3+ effective frequency model for advertising is not valid.

Some say we only get one chance to make a first impression. In media, to build more powerful advertising, we need to strive for many first impressions, avoiding excessive frequency.

Continuity over time is critical, because the last (most recent) impression received before a purchase decision is made can be extremely powerful.

In 1993, Erwin Ephron published an article on recency in The SQAD Monthly: ‘Is Flighting Bad for a Brand?’ In 1996, Tony Jarvis brought that article to my attention. That is when I began to challenge some of the old paradigms as to how advertising works. It took me until 1997 to set up the first of a series of in-market experiments to test some theories regarding several different ways to execute recency. I mention these timelines to demonstrate that it took more than four years for me to absorb the new findings about how advertising works, and to act on them. I was slow. But others are taking even longer to adjust their thinking.

Learning is not stagnant regarding how advertising works. We are in a highly competitive and secretive business. Negotiated deals are seldom publicized. Advertising and media strategies are kept secret except from those who have to know.

Therefore, few people know that Canada lags behind the U.K. and the U.S. in implementing the recency media planning and buying discipline. What an opportunity! It all starts with the planning.

Here is a sampling of media planning secrets advertisers can share with their agencies. Understanding these secrets can motivate media planners and buyers and help build more powerful advertising:

* Briefings of the agency by the client to begin media plan development should involve senior management from both client and agency. This will ensure that budget levels and basic objectives are approved and not subject to change, as such changes can waste valuable time and enthusiasm.

Media planners who will be writing the plan should participate in the briefing, rather than getting direction second hand.

* Initial presentations of media plans by the agency should involve the client’s senior management. In media as with creative, the result will be increasing the likelihood of getting great work the first time.

* Even with great creative, advertising wearout is a bigger problem than most realize. Excessive frequency is a problem! And sadly, excessive frequency is not free.

* High-level bursts of advertising may not be as effective in the long term as lower levels with more duration, if executed for dispersion to emphasize reach.

* Prime time, top-rated shows and high-profile shows may be bid up in price to a point where they are no longer cost-effective in emphasizing reach. Some funds may be shifted to build duration.

* Most broadcasters underestimate the value of a mix of low-profile programming that delivers dispersion. Do not tip them off.

* Even seasonal brands can benefit from more duration in the advertising.

* Community size is seldom an important factor in assessing propensity to buy most products and services. Regional differences are more significant. Therefore, if budgets are inadequate for national advertising, it may be better to cut an entire region rather than smaller communities nationally.

I have a modest objective, simply to change how media advertising is planned, bought and sold in Canada. When finished, I will retire.

‘In 1998 I set out to help advertisers and their agencies understand and successfully execute the recency media planning and buying discipline. It continues to be a wonderful journey.’

Lowell J. Lunden is president and chief learning officer at Peterborough, Ont.-based LLunden & Associates, Strategic Media Explorers. He can be reached at: