The Threshold Effect

The first paid print ad in the U.S. appeared in a New England newspaper in 1704. But it is Benjamin Franklin who is the real father of advertising in America. Both his publications in the 1760’s, the Philadelphia Gazette and General Magazine, featured print ads, many written by Franklin himself.

Now, knowing that not everyone was going to read every issue of his publications, Ben realized that for most or all of his readers to see his ads, they would have to appear in more than one issue.  And if readers saw his messages more than once, all the better. Voila! The concepts of ad frequency (will people see it?) and ad effectiveness (will people react to it?) were born.

Since Ben’s time, there has been plenty of research, dialog and debate on the subject of effective frequency in advertising and marketing communications. And while opinion has swung from one end of the spectrum to the other, the most accepted theory over time has been that it takes at least 3 exposures to a message for a recipient to retain it and decide to act (or not) on that message.  

Herbert E. Krugman hypothesized about the number of exposures:

  • #1 is curiosity (What is it?),
  • #2 is recognition (What of it?)
  • #3 is decision (This is for me.)

An ad must cross the threshold of retention and decision for it to be effective. On the other hand, many advertisers you are well aware of smash across the threshold like a tsunami and way beyond – into over-exposure and waste. Most recently think Draft Kings, Fan Duel, and the unceasing insurance company advertising; too much and it is eventually tuned-out completely.

Regardless of the size of your company and your marketing budget, the decision to launch and maintain a marketing communications campaign is a big one. But unless your plan and budget takes you across the threshold of effectiveness, all the money invested getting to the threshold, but not crossing it, may have been wasted. The beauty is, once you cross the threshold and gain momentum, whether locally, regionally or nationally, the ROI in terms of advertising effectiveness and efficiency will be multiplied across all platforms in an integrated communications campaign.

Sounds great. So how do we do that? We’ll get into some of the secret sauce in the next post.