Media are a crucial part of any advertising campaign. Selecting the most effective media gets the advertising message across to the intended target group. Media are also the most expensive part of advertising campaigns. In a typical media campaign, the media costs account for 80 – 85 percent of the advertising budget (Kelley & Juggenheimer 2003). In deciding how to allocate the advertising media budget, we have to ask several questions: How many people of the target group do we want to reach? How many times do we want to reach them? Within what time frame do we want to make contact? Which contexts are most suitable to get our message across? These questions refer to four key topics in media planning: reach, frequency, timing, and context.
The question of how many people an advertiser wants to reach forms the basis currency in media planning. Reach is defined as “the number of target audience individuals exposed to the advertising or promotion, in an advertising cycle” (Rossiter & Percy 1998, 447). Reach is a form of audience accumulation and a measure of how many different audience members were exposed at least once to one or more media vehicles over a period of time (Sissors & Bumba 1991, 73). Reach can also be expressed as a percentage of the target audience, provided that the base number of target audience individuals is clearly specified.
The number of contacts – being three individuals having contact with one issue, or one individual having contact with three issues – increases when more magazines (or other media) are scheduled. This is called gross reach, or gross rating points (GRP). The GRPs of a media schedule are the sum of the percentage of contacts of each advertising cycle. One GRP means that the advertisement or commercial reaches 1 percent of the target audience; 10 GRPs means that the insertion reaches 10 percent; and so on (Rossiter & Percy 1998, 447). GRPs are an estimate of the total number of exposure opportunities (OTS) per 100 target audience members in an advertising cycle, without regard to whether the individuals receiving these OTS were the same or different people. The net reach in a medium plan is the number of persons that are exposed at least one time. In other words, the gross reach minus the overlap.
In most industrialized countries, “people-meters” are used for television ratings, surveys are used to determine the number of readers of newspapers, magazines, mail, and outdoor advertising. Diaries are used to estimate the number of listeners to radio stations. Surveys give insights into the reach of mailbox and outdoor advertising (for an overview of these methods see Kent 1994). Media planners use these figures to select the best media for their campaigns.
However, reach figures for various media are difficult to compare. Data for print media, for example, indicate the number of people reading the various titles, not the number of people who have seen an advertisement in that title. Television data, on the other hand, refer to the number of people watching specific content, such as television commercials. Comparing data for print and for television, therefore, is like comparing apples and oranges. Furthermore, note that “reach” figures do not tell us how advertisements are processed, and the effect they have on brand attitude and behavior.
How often should people be reached with a message? Decisions with respect to frequency of exposure are important because media costs are high and campaigners want to avoid wasting money due to a too-low frequency (no effects reached) or too-high frequency (unnecessary costs). Most theories assume that repeating the message is useful because it adds to the effects of the campaign. However, after a certain number of repetitions the effects decline, or can even become negative. What frequency is best?
One of the most influential theories on the optimum number of exposures is the threehit theory of Herbert Krugman (1972). According to Krugman, a cognitive reaction dominates the response of the audience during the first confrontation with a commercial. The receiver asks himself: “What is it? What is it all about?” During the second confrontation, an evaluative reaction dominates: “What is in it for me?” The third confrontation is the real reminder. The viewer knows what it is all about and can take action. However, according to Krugman, it is possible that a commercial brings the receiver to his second response (“What is in it for me?”) after, for example, the twentythird confrontation, in other words, in this example the twenty-third confrontation is psychologically perceived as the second one.
Based on a literature review, Michael Naples (1979) wrote, on the authority of the American Association of National Advertisers (ANA), that one confrontation with an advertisement would have little or no effect, except in extraordinary circumstances while two confrontations (within a purchase interval) are effective. The optimal frequency would be at least three confrontations within a purchase interval.
John Philip Jones (1995a; 1995b) concluded that a successful campaign is effective from the first confrontation. In other words, the response curve has no threshold. He also concludes that the first confrontation will have the greatest effect and that the next confrontations will have less effect (diminishing returns). Jones analyzed Nielsen-panel data which record buying behavior and looked at short-term effects of established brands in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector. His conclusions are thus valid only for these cases.
Twenty years later, Colin McDonald (1996) wrote a follow-up of Naples’s review and reached other conclusions. He subscribed to Jones’s ideas with respect to the short-term effects of advertising for established brands. However, he concluded that new messages, for new brands, do show a threshold. Furthermore, the shape of the response curve depends, according to McDonald, on a number of factors: in other words, there is not one rule for optimal frequency. The following factors have an influence: share of voice, activities of competitors, market share and status of the brand, quality of the advertisement, time until the purchase, target group, and type of product.
Within what time frame do I want to make contact? The most important decision in answering this question about the timing of the message is the choice between “bursting” (large media exposure over a short period) on the one hand and “dripping” (spreading small media exposure over time) on the other hand (Zielske & Henry 1980). Heflin and Haygood (1985) concluded that media schemes with an average concentration showed the best results. They explained the bad results of the high-intensity schemes by the fact that concentrations irritate and satiate the audience. The bad results of the very lowintensity schemes were explained by the “forget effect.”
Ligthart (1999) concluded that combining burst and dripping worked best for the brands he studied. According to him, the answer to the question “bursting or dripping?” is dependent on a number of factors. First, if a large audience can be reached quickly, a burst is to be preferred. Second, the greater the forget effect, the more effective dripping becomes. A final factor is the budget: when the budget is substantial, an effective combination of burst and dripping (“maintenance”) is possible (Ligthart 1999, 56). The forget effect is strong when many competitors are advertising, when the ad stock is low, or when the quality of the commercial is low. Ligthart’s findings contradict those of Jones who stated: “we should redeploy media funds towards continuous advertising at relatively low pressure, in preference to concentrated bursts with gaps in between” (Jones 1995b, 29).
In order to answer the question “Which contexts are most suitable to get my message across?” it is necessary to first mark out what context is about. Advertising context is a multifarious concept, consisting of many elements that may influence advertising effectiveness. A division can be made between context characteristics related to the receiver of the advertisement and those related to the vehicle carrying the advertisement: the medium context.
The receiver context can be described as the situational circumstances in which a person is exposed to an advertisement (Pieters & Van Raaij 1992). This includes the person’s physical environment (e.g., at home, at the kitchen table), the social environment (e.g., in the company of three family members), the time frame (e.g., during breakfast), and the mental state a person is in prior to exposure to the medium content (e.g., an early morning mood). Although it has been shown that each of these aspects can influence advertising effectiveness substantively, receiver context aspects are less relevant for media planning because planners have little or no ways of influencing them.
Of course this is different for the medium context. The medium context concerns the environment of the ad provided by the vehicle carrying it, such as a television program, an issue of a magazine, or an Internet site. A distinction can be made here between editorial context and commercial context. Studies on commercial context have predominantly concentrated on the effect of the amount and nature of other commercial messages in the environment of an ad, referred to as clutter and competitive clutter. It has been shown that, as the number of ads in the environment of the target ad (referred to as clutter) increases, the effectiveness of the target ad decreases, especially when the other ads are directly competitive (referred to as competitive clutter) (Kent 1993; 1995).
Part of the medium context is the editorial context. Studies on editorial context have predominantly concentrated on the question on whether the same source delivering the same message to the same audience on separate occasions might produce different effects depending on the differing programming or editorial contexts in which the message appears (Norris & Colman 1992). In particular, context-induced psychological responses, such as involvement elicited by a documentary, happiness caused by a sitcom, or sadness generated by a drama series, are considered to have an important impact on advertising processing (DePelsmacker et al. 2002; Moorman et al. 2001; 2002; 2005).
At the heart of all theoretical explanations regarding the influence of context-induced psychological responses on advertising processing lies the assumption that mental reactions toward the editorial context do not cease when the editorial content is interrupted by advertisements, but that these reactions “carry over” to the advertisements. These carriedover reactions, in turn, influence advertising processing. For example, it has frequently been found that advertisements placed in editorial contexts that induce positive feelings are evaluated more positively. Furthermore, it has been shown that context-induced involvement has an influence on attention for advertisements and memory for advertisements. However, it is still a subject of debate whether this effect is positive or negative.
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