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What's The Frequency, Kenneth? (The factor some display campaigns overlook)

Published: June 4, 2012

Author: Sean Nowlin

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

– Albert Einstein

Image credit: newsletter.li

This famous quote, attributed to Einstein, can fit most situations. The smart, lifelong procrastinating “B” student who can never understand why he/she misses the “A” range. The heavy-footed driver who wants to argue a fourth ticket in twelve months. Display campaign managers who can never figure out why they are spending so much money on millions of impressions but never hitting a good ROI. What do these people have in common? Einstein knows.
Many display campaign first-timers overlook possibly the most important success variable: proper frequency, which can make or break a campaign. But in the hustle and bustle of vetting partners, developing creative, and executing a campaign, it’s often something that is skipped over. Why? Because it’s not easily understood.
He didn’t know the frequency either. (Image credit: microwaves101.com)
Here’s a basic definition just to set the table: frequency controls how many impressions a person (technically, a browser cookie) sees in a given day or week. Too many impressions, and you could be wasting money. Too few, and you could be losing conversions.
But sometimes it’s the shepherd who has led the flock astray. I have received many a display proposal that lacked even the basic outline of frequency control. Many times it’s conveniently left out of a proposal because dollar signs are more important. If a display partner has to control for frequency, then that means impressions have to work harder. I once looked at a reach/frequency report that showed a large percentage of people were seeing 100+ impressions a week. And this was discovered even though a cap had supposedly been put in place.
My point here is that if you don’t have an optimal frequency (yet), you should rely on your display partners to help set the right one. It has been my experience that the greatest partners are the ones that have a best-practices suggestion right at square one. These partners are the ones who tend to stick around after a test. If a partner has to dump 100 impressions a week on individual members of their audience in order to get conversions, it’s possible that the audience isn’t comprised of your target market. (And, obviously, beware the vendors who can’t control for frequency at all.)

If you aren’t getting the desired ROI in a display campaign, one of the first things you should check is the frequency. It can be an easy optimization and could dramatically alter the outcome. If you never change campaign test parameters, don’t ever expect to see different results. Einstein knows.

Sean Nowlin, Senior Display Media Manager

25 E Washington Street
Suite 420

Chicago, IL 60602(650) 539-4124


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