Synopsis: A quick review of single- vs. multi-touch campaigns and the “Performance Paradox.”

Traditional media sales reps say that a “cold” prospect has to see your ad multiple times for the ad to be effective – meaning so that the prospect can recall both the ad and your brand. And everybody has a different take on “optimal” frequency. Some will say 7x, and others will quote London businessman Thomas Smith, who in 1885 said it takes up to 20 repetitions from initial impression to purchase.

Of course the media reps make more money when they sell frequency – whether they can track it or not.


In the Behavioral Marketing world, we know quantitatively how things perform. And in one of the offline channels, we uncovered a paradox:

In direct mail, awareness increases with frequency, but campaign response rate can drop off exponentially. The response rate for each “touch” is half of the previous one (without varying the package, list or offer).

So for clients with a very large target audience (e.g., the state of California), we may use a “skim” strategy. We might touch prospects only once with direct mail – and deploy other, lower-CPM media to provide frequency.

But imagine a client in a smaller niche, or geographic limitations. For example, a solar energy company whose product is only available in certain neighborhoods. In their case, print or broadcast advertising can have too many wasted impressions.

Here we use multiple direct response “touches” to drive both awareness and leads. By continually varying the package and offer, we keep it all “fresh.” The result is a much smaller trail-off in response rate, and we maintain our client’s campaign ROI.

So the number of “touches” varies by client and situation.

The best way to assure the optimal number is with Frequency Planning. This process pinpoints how to measure the effects of frequency, how often to contact prospects, how much to spend, and at what point one may see diminishing returns.


Can you think of any cases where it makes sense to limit frequency? After visiting a commercial website, have you ever seen so many display ads from that company that you felt like you were being “stalked”? When we add Retargeting to a targeted digital display campaign, we are very careful to cap frequency at roughly 10-15 impressions per household per month. This way the ads seem more naturally placed.

Many years ago, DoubleClick correlated a drop off in click-throughs with frequency. But since then we have found that we can prevent “banner burnout” by simply swapping creative after a certain number of impressions.

After how many impressions?

It varies among different offerings, industries, and target audiences. Here I will defer to what I call the Marketer’s “Cop-Out”…

“You’ll have to test a campaign to find out.”