This month, Admap puts the spotlight on Frequency. We asked Mark Evans, Marketing Director, Direct Line Group, for his views on this challenging topic.

Fake News. Spam. Ad blockers. Post-truth. Cambridge Analytica. It’s fair to say we are facing an ongoing crisis of trust, and advertising is not far from the eye of the perfect storm.

In this context, the advertising industry cannot afford to lose sight of the rapid changes in consumer mindsets. Never have consumers been more advertising-savvy or more distrustful about the intrusive nature of new technology. Moreover, empowered by a proliferation of ways to share their views on brands and advertising campaigns in real-time, they have never been more vocal.

Against this backdrop, clients and agencies are rightly seeking greater transparency and reassurance around brand safety. As a result, measurement and control of these specific issues have improved significantly. However, what is almost entirely missing from the debate currently is the issue of frequency. It has been overshadowed by louder conversations and yet over-serving of advertising, or “bombardment” to give it a catchy title, is one of the key drivers of mistrust and also creates significant wastage of spend.

In this way we have a “lose-lose” scenario that goes almost entirely unnoticed. However, this has now been called out loudly in 2019 research by Credos, a UK-based advertising think tank, which conducted a major study to understand the drivers of mistrust in advertising.

‘Wastage cost’ as a KPI

There is a fine line between repeating a message to a consumer to ensure that it has landed with them and doing it to the point that it is downright annoying. This is portrayed vividly in the case of online retargeting where consumers notice that they are being “followed around the internet” by an item that they have already bought. It’s the repetition that niggles people, but to add injury to insult that extra unwarranted frequency also incurs cost.

The issue is not restricted to digital media channels. Any media channel will produce a normal distribution of opportunities to see or hear, and with traditional media increasingly moving towards programmatic retargeted buying, the issue is only likely to get worse.

Hence bombardment needs greater share of voice. To be clear this is not a ‘Jerry Maguire’ moment. In his somewhat touchy-feely mission statement, he talked about fewer clients and less money. We need to acknowledge the hard facts of reality that marketing budgets have never been under such close inspection, and any form of waste eradication enhances CMOs’ spending power alongside their commercial credibility in the eyes of their CFO and CEO.

It is still true that repetition drives recall, but the simple truth is that this is very difficult to optimise against campaign goals across a messy cross-platform media landscape. And hence clients will be paying for inventory which is not delivering results and is potentially even counter-productive. If we could isolate this ‘wastage cost’ it would be transformative from an economic perspective but also would also help to lance the trust boil. From lose-lose to win-win. This KPI would surely have equivalence to any other metric in the CMO’s armoury. Greater impetus is being placed on this area by the twin initiatives of Unilever’s cross media measurement model, and the IAB’s recently announced transparency FAQs.

Repetition is linked to ad avoidance, and ad blocking

The research from Credos mentioned above, found that over-exposure rebounds on the industry as a whole in the minds of consumers, rather than on specific brands. Respondents were very explicit that advertising has become ever more inescapable and noisy in their lives creating frustration with the brands in question. Worse still, repetition was explicitly linked to ad avoidance and blocking activities.

Therefore, overexposure may drive short term benefits for a brand but it might well come at the price of long term consideration and perception of the brand. Considering that people increasingly value their time and attention, the risks are self-evident. In the same way, it can also harm the industry as a whole.

This discussion around bombardment is long overdue. It is high time that campaigns have cross-platform frequency caps whereby if frequency is exceeded, the campaign wouldn’t be judged as a success and the wasted spend would be transparent. There is clearly a moral hazard here in that some brands just won’t care about any wider impacts upon the industry. But if cross-channel and platform measurement can accurately de-duplicate reach and frequency and demonstrate how much spend is wasted then everyone will pay attention.

Consumer trust must be earned, continuously

To truly crack this particular nut, it will likely require an evidence-based industry wide approach and an agreed set of best practice guidelines. Agencies and the brands alongside them will need to see the tangible benefits on offer before we can expect to see industry-wide change. It’s also likely that these standards will vary from one sector to another, one channel to the next, and even depending on the brand objective. It may even require new technologies to support the necessary measurement platforms.

Ultimately, the industry shouldn’t shy away from the frequency challenge just because it’s hard. It should be tackled because it’s the right thing to do, and because it will underpin sustainability in the long term with consumers. Consumer trust has to be earned - continuously.