Erwin, I beg to differ

The theory of recency media planning has gained much prominence over the last few years throughout the advertising world. Erwin Ephron is a well-respected media professional who has been successfully touting the benefits of this theory in person as well as in print. Very little has been offered in rebuttal, so I hereby throw down the gauntlet.

The theory of recency media planning has gained much prominence over the last few years throughout the advertising world. Erwin Ephron is a well-respected media professional who has been successfully touting the benefits of this theory in person as well as in print. Very little has been offered in rebuttal, so I hereby throw down the gauntlet.

The theory of recency media planning states that it is more effective to spread out GRPs over a continuous and sustained period of time, as opposed to concentrating them in shorter bursts that leave multi-week gaps.

Research and examples to support this theory tend to focus on packaged goods and television planning, and use the ‘empty box’ scenario. The theory states that consumers run out of cereal at randomly different times of the year, and so it is vital to reach the TV viewer when in the market to replace the item. It postulates that if I run out of my favourite Coco Pops today, seeing one spot tomorrow should resonate more strongly with me than seeing multiple spots after I have already re-stocked. The recency theory concludes that a frequency campaign may miss reaching me if my box empties during a hiatus.

Mr. Ephron has presented a great deal of empirical data to back up this theory. I cannot provide equal amounts of research to back up this counter-argument, however, I will apply some common sense thinking to this theory and hopefully stir additional debate.

Firstly, the recency theory purports a risky trade-off. By spreading out TV weight every single week, this will result in GRP levels much lower than by flighting. Given limited budgets, the weekly GRP levels may never exceed 65 or 75 over a 52-week period.

Given the amount of clutter in our television environment – and this continues to increase unabated every year – how will a campaign at less than 100 weekly GRPs resonate? Of course, great creative and a compelling offer may counter the effects of low GRPs, but advertisers cannot always count on this. It is more vital than ever to rise above the fray and, short of creative media methods like sponsorships and product placements, it is critical that an advertiser in a competitive environment shout down the competition.

Advertisers should strive for breakthrough weight levels of 200-300 GRPs per week and own the category for a short period of time. These weight levels will have a much better chance of breaking through the increasing levels of clutter, which should lead to additional sales.

Secondly, an advertiser can still generate impressions when in hiatus. How? Partly through the residual effect of advertising and more notably, through word of mouth.

The residual effect of advertising allows for high weekly GRP levels to carry impressions through lighter or hiatus weeks. The message seen a few days ago still resonates in the consumer psyche beyond the allotted advertising flight so that it seems as if GRPs are running in a week not purchased.

More importantly though, word of mouth can be one of the strongest media channels, as the message is received from a most trusted source. It’s the old ‘I told two friends, and they told two friends…’ philosophy. However, in order to reach the first ‘friend’ effectively, an advertiser has to generate high frequency, and then hope that their product lives up to the hype so that the consumer will spread the gospel.

An advertiser will be hard-pressed to achieve this goal with a paltry 65 weekly GRPs.

Thirdly, packaged goods are not only replenished when empty. What consumer has not stocked up on tissues so as to have an extra supply at home? An extra box or two of Coco Pops or Kraft Dinner will fit snugly into the shopping cart and the pantry back home. A high-frequency campaign will help a company sell through their stock to repeat purchasers.

Despite all of the arguments above, I may be persuaded to believe that recency theory may be an effective strategy for long established packaged goods. However, for many other consumer categories, recency cannot be effective.

Many items advertised are not necessities that must be replenished through a regular purchase cycle. What about those discretionary or luxury items?

How will the message for discretionary items break through to the consumer who is not necessarily in the market? High weight levels.

Theatre tickets are not replenishing an empty box, but are a discretionary purchase that could be made by any viewer at any time and so, once again, needs lots of frequency to stand out. That theatre ticket does not just compete with another live theatrical event, but also with other live events (concerts, sports); attractions (museums, zoos); services (restaurants, night clubs) and a host of other consumer products (CD players, clothing accessories) all vying for that viewer’s attention and pocketbook.

Product launches, retail sales, events…these all require high levels of frequency in order to stand out from not just category competition, but from every imaginable product or service where that same dollar may be spent. Try getting these messages through with low weight levels.

Recency theory for package goods with a long history of awareness? Maybe. Recency theory for everything else? No.

Ed Weiss

VP, associate media direcor

Echo Advertising + Marketing, Toronto

eweiss@echoadvertising.com