Facebook (and other paid social) ad frequency – how many times should your audience see the message?
If you've seen the Mad Men show, you probably liked the idea of this great Don Draper marketing guru who is creative and smart enough to sell anything to anyone by simply understanding what drives people. What I liked about the drama was that some of those characters, keep in mind that it was all set in the 60s, said some bold statements that still, to this day, are incredibly relevant and applicable in digital marketing.
- Don't invent the wheel for the second time. Rule of 7 in digital advertising.
- But how many is too many? The perfect frequency cap for digital ads.
- Creative fatigue — how to identify it and how to act in time?
- So why should you use ad frequency on Facebook, Google Ads, or any other PPC platform?
Don't invent the wheel for the second time. Rule of 7 in digital advertising.
When we talk about ad frequency, banner blindness, brand awareness, or other aspects of delivering the message to our target audience, we could start with a quote from Mad Men that'll explain better where we're going with this:
And this is, in essence, the foundation of advertising — it hasn't changed since the first ads were shown to the public. "You need this", "that product will change your life", "with our butter, you'll be happy", and the list goes on.
The problem is that people need to be convinced that what you say is true; you need to show the value you're providing adamantly. And you won't be able to accomplish that with a single point of touch with the potential customer.
In the 1930s, movie industry experts started wondering how to make ads effective to generate the engagement businesses need. Eventually, they discovered that people respond to ads and start buying after at least 7 instances of hearing the message.
Did it work? Sure. Does it work now? Not a chance. Or at least not how it used to do in the past.
Remember that the rule was created in times when if you said "ads," people would think about outdoor billboards, radio, newspapers, and posters. Video advertisements were just starting to get traction at that time. Their conclusion was: we need to make sure that we cover as many placements as possible to make people hear us enough times to buy.
So sure, it worked, especially compared to competitors who didn't scale up their advertising presence. But today, we have social media, search engines, and programmatic ads, and the technology is so advanced that we can run targeted ads on TV! I'd be flushed with cash if a successful and profitable marketing campaign would only require at least 7 impressions per user.
But it's not that simple. In today's world, you need to think more about how you interact with your audience instead of how many times you interact with your audience.
But how many is too many? The perfect frequency cap for digital ads.
So that's pretty clear, focus on the quality of contact instead of the quantity. But there still is an important factor at play: how many times can we display ads before it starts performing worse, costing more and frustrating people?
Let me answer that real quick: the number doesn't matter.
As a digital advertising agency, we manage ad accounts for multiple clients from various countries and industries, selling many different products or services. We only care a little about the impression-to-reach ratio. Why? Because it doesn't tell us anything that may impact the business.
Let's say that Facebook tells you that the audience in one of your campaigns has seen your ad at least 8 times. What can you learn from this information? Would you replace the ad? I know I wouldn't. I would need additional information:
- What's the audience size? We could run the campaign to target a small group interested in a niche product. Then with 20 dollars budget a day, you'd have to replace ads every 3 days, because it'd penetrate the group pretty fast anyway.
- Was it a relevant impression? Some platforms clock up impressions whenever a small box hidden somewhere at the bottom of the page gets displayed where it's hard to acquire user attention, let alone a click. Technically it's still an impression, but was that an impression that delivered the message the way you'd like? I doubt that.
- Did the performance decrease? And by performance, we seldom mean CPC, CPM, or CTR - what matters are conversions. If your cost per conversion is OK, then don't shut down the gold mine; let it bring you more money.
"You're so full of it," someone could say before adding, "it's obvious that if you don't care how many times you display to your audience, you risk overwhelming them with negative feelings or even antagonizing them to your brand." And that's true, but first of all, you'd notice that in a decreased performance and higher conversion cost — that's the number 1 indicator telling you when to change ads. Second of all, if we believe studies, the average person sees or hears between 4 000 and 10 000 ads each day. Come to think of it, how many ads do you have to watch when you play a 10-minute-long YouTube video? How many posts on your Facebook feed are published by companies or how often does an ad pop up there? And don't even get me started on TV, radio, or outdoor advertising. Do you really want to tell me that displaying your ads 10 times over a 2 weeks period will anger your audience? I don't buy it. They won't even remember seeing your ad the next day. That is exactly why we have sales funnels.
Creative fatigue — how to identify it and how to act in time?
So sure, we know about the traffic quality and that we should measure more important metrics than the impression-to-reach ratio, but how about the ad or creative fatigue? There is a clear distinction between ads just not converting and being not unappealing to the audience, and ads that used to work and just stopped because they were displayed too many times.
Suppose something didn’t generate engagement for the first, second, or third time we displayed it. In that case, chances of it generating an engagement the fourth, fifth, or sixth time are really low — particularly for ads that aren’t converting, but ads that drove your conversions or sales won’t keep doing that forever. When they stop — then we have to deal with the ad fatigue.
This kind of situation directly affects the conversion cost and conversion rate and by extension: CPC, CTR, CPM, or any other metric. To delay that moment, you can always make sure that your ad set has at least several creatives to feed algorithms more and allow them to serve various ads. Otherwise, fewer people will interact with your brand over time. You had a shot with these folks. They found your message not valuable enough to act. Change it.
So why should you use ad frequency on Facebook, Google Ads, or any other PPC platform?
So why are there ad capping/ad frequency options on any major PPC platform? In most cases, they're not for you. In European Union, only around 30% of all companies have more than 250 employees. Here in Europe, small businesses are the backbone of the economy (source). Do you think that in the US, it's any different? Not really. According to Forbes: 99.9% of all companies employ fewer than 500 people (source) there.
This tells us something crucial that I frequently hear agencies or marketers say to their clients, something I never agree with: brand awareness is everything.
Indeed, brand awareness is important. You need your customers' trust and recognition to sell efficiently. Yet, by its very definition, brand awareness is beyond most companies' reach. McDonald's, PepsiCo, Sony, and Netflix invested hundreds of millions, and it still took years of airing TV, radio, newspaper, and online ads to become known to the public. Accomplishing that on any single market costs millions, and most companies don't have this kind of money to invest in brand awareness. Large enterprises do, and when you manage a 3 million dollar campaign, you want to ensure that it delivers the results you want. Then ad frequency capping is essential.
The majority doesn't have to worry about that feature because we — regular folks, scale up our small or medium-sized businesses by taking advantage of the sales funnel. We start with a broad audience and narrow it down to people interested in our products. Then, we convince people to purchase our products based on the existing demand.
They want to create a connection where you think "cheeseburger" and say "McDonald's." They can afford that, but most businesses can't.
So sure, you can set capping at 3 times a day or 7 times a week, but you should worry about whether your ads drive sales or generate leads at an acceptable cost. If they stop doing that, change your ads.