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  • eMP Content Writing Team

Frequency Capping: Maintaining Brand Visibility Without Saturation

Updated: Feb 22



A collage of a man looking into the distance thinking about thinking about frequency capping

Ever felt hounded by an ad that seems to follow you across the internet for days or even months? Despite initially liking the brand, the persistence of these ads can turn bothersome. But the flip side is that ads need visibility to resonate with users, and many go unnoticed by the intended audience. So, where's the balance? What's the ideal exposure frequency per user before it becomes overwhelming?


The Golden Rule of 7 and Frequency Capping

Unless you just joined the advertising field, you've probably heard of the Marketing Rule of 7. The premise is that a prospect needs to come by an advertiser's offer seven times before they can be ready to convert. The rule was developed in the 1930s by the movie industry when studio bosses discovered that they needed to promote a movie a certain amount of times before someone was ready to actually go and see it. While back then, this was hard to achieve, let alone measure, in the digital age, brands are often able to reach an individual seven times a day. The question is whether this is something to strive towards. In truth, the magic number depends on the message, the type of ad, the objective, and, ultimately, the user. While for some products, ad awareness and intent increase with higher exposure, product category influences the outcome. There are many opinions on the subject, and none should be taken as ultimate unbreakable rules for all case scenarios. However, all of them agree that it's important to set some kind of a limit.


Frequency Cap

That's where frequency capping comes into play. Say you want to run a campaign with a publisher. One of the first questions that should be answered is the ideal frequency cap per their best practices. They are the ones with the knowledge of their users' habits (like how often they visit certain parts of the website and how blind they are to the ads), as well as their available inventory. If you're not sure of the initial number or you're not getting the necessary feedback from the publisher, anywhere from 7 to 10 exposures is a good place to start. You should always try out different numbers in order to learn the optimal frequency cap that ultimately leads to a conversion.


While frequency capping is a great tool to have in mind, especially when you're running one specific campaign with specific messaging over a certain period of time, it could prove difficult to measure. We can't identify the users as individuals, so overlaps between different channels of marketing are bound to happen.


From Awareness to Purchase Intent

The idea is to first get the user's attention focused on the brand and then slowly lead them down the sales funnel. Keeping in mind that there are different phases of the process – ranging from brand awareness to consideration and, finally, intent- corresponding offers or messaging should be related to each of them. Many channels find the solution in the form of sequential advertising (for example, YouTube or Facebook ad sequencing), where ads are shown in a predefined order and frequency cap. Taking into consideration the importance of storytelling, this way, you're able to capture the user's attention with engaging creatives based on the actions they've already taken. These ads are best used to retarget the prospects that have already shown interest in your brand or ads while avoiding messaging or creative saturation.


The Context in Which the Ad Appears

Aside from the content of the ads, a very important factor to consider is the context in which they appear. Based on the experiment by Joshua Bell, Keith Browning argues in one highly compelling article that context is more important than content. Joshua Bell, one of the American award-winning violinists, played his violin in a metro station and made approximately $32. Only 20 out of 1,000 commuters intentionally stopped to listen. The same man would fill any hall at a $100 minimum ticket price. The conclusion is that the environment in which we see an ad influences how we interpret it and whether the intended objective is achieved or not.


While targeting based on audience data gives a vast inventory where your ad can move with users no matter what content they're visiting, it ignores the importance of context. Some of the content next to which your ad ends up appearing might be brand-damaging and completely alter the sentiment with which it's perceived. Having this in mind, your ad might be completely ignored, or its message perceived differently based on context.


Best Mediums for Controlled and Measured Exposure

While programmatic buying is a good way to get your brand out there (at a lower cost), there are more controlled channels where you'll be able to keep track of both the context and the number of exposures.


Brands are able to use thoughtful content strategies on social media in order to influence different points of the buyer journey. It's important to tell a story and provide value in order to convert prospects into customers. Instead of going for that one conversion, a good social media strategy takes time and commitment in order to build a lasting relationship with the brand.


Buying or building your own email inventory enables you to reach users with as many emails as you'd like and with a highly developed messaging sequence. It also lets you use zero-party data to provide a personalized experience based on preferences. Personalization is one of the most important marketing trends, so you should leverage any opportunity to collect willingly given preference data and provide offers accordingly.


Google Ads allow frequency capping at the campaign and ad group levels. While capping at an ad group level allows for precise control, making sure that there's a frequency cap applied on a campaign level will let you target one user with any kind of ad for a total of 3 times a day (suggested number by some experts), for example.


Conclusion

While getting the ideal number of ad exposures per user takes time, frequency capping should be used across all channels, especially if you're using multi-channel strategies. Using sequence ads will enable the messaging and creative diversification that aligns with the buyer journey. Finally, you should also be mindful of the context in which your ads appear, as well as the optimal channels that allow control and measurement of exposures.


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