In terms of planning an advertising campaign, buying media is an art as much as it is a science – there are many variable which come in to play that determined the success, or potential for success of a campaign. The potency of any advertising campaign can be determined, if all other things being equal, by the reach and frequency of the execution. Most media campaigns start with a finite budget, where the reach and frequency of the media buy have to be weighed against each other to provide the optimal balance between the average number of people exposed at least once to the advertisement over a specific period of time and; the number of times the average person is exposed to the advertisement over a specific period of time. While a perfect balance is near impossible to achieve, the one Golden Rule to remember here is:

reach without frequency = a waste of money

But there are always exceptions that break the rules!

Marketing guru Seth Godin uses an analogy of seed and water to demonstrate the importance of ensuring sufficient frequency in your campaigns. He hypothesises that: If you were given 100 seeds with enough water to water each seed once, would you plant all 100 seeds and water each one once or would you be more successful if you planted 25 seeds and used all of the water on those 25 seeds?

When trying to build awareness of a brand in a marketplace, repetition is almost always used to ensure that the message is given the opportunity to be absorbed into the minds of those exposed to it multiple times.

If I were marketing manager for a brand, and someone proposed to me an outrageous media spend to get to an entire population for an extravagant once-only exposure, I’d probably ask them if they had rocks in their head, especially now that a recession is on our heels and there needs to be more accountability for marketing dollars being spent. But this is exactly the proposition put to advertisers every year for the half-time break in Super Bowl Sunday. So why are advertisers willing to hand over a cool US$3 million for a once-off 30-second spot? It essentially comes down to a value for money proposition, and with a captive audience of an estimate 90 million extra viewers tuning in just to see the commercial breaks – the cost per thousand figures start to look pretty good for this ad break. Of course, this is just part of the picture of what really goes on. Factor in the media coverage received around the globe for what they dub not an ad break but an ad event; the million or so viewing of the ads online; discussions around the water cooler; and you begin to see how frequency of the brand finds its way back into the equation.

In a clever move this year, Doritos and Frito-Lay were able to enhance their level of consumer engagement with their “Amateurs beat pro, win $1 million ad challenge”. The makers of Doritos put a challenge to their consumer base to produce a Super Bowl ad, while Frito-Lay promised US$1 million if the ad chosen to run during the big game beat out the likes of Budweiser, Coke and the other giants of Super Bowl advertising, in a popularity vote. In among 2,000 entrants, two brothers from Indiana who spent about US$2,000 on their ad ended up winning the vote and taking home the US$1 million prize. The competition got thousands of people actively engaged in the brand by having them participate in the competition, and millions more viewing the results.

To be fair, I still stand by the Golden Rule of media, but it must be noted that a lack of frequency can be compensated with additional promotional activities that can supplement brand exposure frequency in the marketplace. The lesson here is to plan out your media campaigns, utilise a number of different marketing activities in concert with each other to achieve potency, rather than a one-off, ad-hoc approach to achieve market penetration.

Click here to view the Doritos’ “Crystal Ball” ad which cost them just under US$2,000.

For more information on Doritos’ campaign, visit