How Do We Determine the Optimum Mix of Reach vs. Frequency?

April 22, 2019

Executive Summary

The debate surrounding reach versus frequency can be tedious and confusing. Academic and industry research have provided widely different perspectives as to the optimal reach/frequency mix.
Based on our extensive research, NAM Digital Insights recommends the following guidelines:

  • There is no one size fits all approach for making the determination between reach and frequency (although the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute recommends a frequency of one should be sufficient).
  • Having a clearly defined KPI upfront will help to lessen the confusion around the reach/frequency debate
  • Reach continues to be increasingly important to major CPGs (and has taken on even greater importance than before).
  • With respect to sales, if the goal is to drive brand sales over the longer-term, the emphasis should be on maximizing reach
  • If the goal is to provide a short-term sales boost, a smaller audience needs to be targeted, with higher levels of frequency
  • A direct correlation has been shown between reach and sales, but over the longer term (more than six months)
  • Even if reach is the main KPI, frequency of exposure and audience targeting still need to be taken into account
  • 5-9 exposures are deemed to be the most optimal level for driving brand awareness
  • 10+ exposures are the most optimal level for driving purchase intent

Figure 1 – The reach/frequency debate can be confusing….


Ever since digital advertising became an important tool in the marketer’s toolbox, one question that has continued to be asked has been: “Should marketers focus more on driving reach or frequency of exposure?”
Differences of opinion abound among experts. The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, a marketing research institute at the University of South Australia, has concluded that the optimal frequency (in terms of return on investment) is one time.1  However, other industry research claims that consumers who saw an ad 10 or more times exhibit a greater level of purchase interest than consumers exposed fewer than 10 times.2
So what is the optimal mix of reach versus frequency with regard to digital advertising? What should News America Marketing’s (NAM) point of view on this debate?


The primary objective of this report is to provide NAM’s Digital Sales team with a point-of-view regarding the reach versus frequency debate that can be shared with our clients. Such information will also be helpful help our clients set up and optimize their digital campaigns.
Some of the questions we hope to answer:

  • Is there a truly optimal mix of reach versus frequency? If so, what is it?
  • To what degree does this mix differ depending on the client’s KPI?
    • Reach?
    • Lift in brand awareness?
    • Lift in purchase intent?
    • Lift in sales?

So what is the right mix of reach and frequency for a digital campaign? The simple answer is: it depends. It depends on the goals and objectives of the campaign. Is the campaign meant to drive long-term brand equity or to drive attitudes or behaviors in the short-term?


Before determining the proper mix of reach and frequency, it’s crucial to define the campaign’s success criteria. Different KPIs will require different mixes of reach and frequency in order to be most effective.


In the digital age, reach is becoming increasingly important (although one could argue it’s always been important). Major CPG manufacturers such as Reckitt Benckiser and Procter & Gamble have sought to increase reach via the use of influencers, shifting TV advertising to more broadly appealing programming, and higher-reach digital platforms.3
According to Marc Pritchard, P&G’s Chief Brand Officer, too many marketers are missing out on potential purchasers because they define their audiences too narrowly.4 Other CPGs like Reckitt have taken that approach to heart, and have been looking for ways to maximize reach on its campaigns.
Why the focus on reach? According to Efrain Ayala, Social Media & Mobile Manager/North America & Europe for Reckitt:
“It’s very clear for fast-moving consumer goods that there’s a direct correlation between reach and sales, so we need to map out the right reach. It’s about stacking the right audiences together so we can get to the scale efficiently.5
That said, if the purpose of the campaign is to drive sales by increasing brand equity, the effects will be evident after a longer period time has elapsed (generally six months or longer).6

Figure 2


So while marketers are relying more on driving broad reach for brand building, they still cannot completely forget about frequency and audience targeting, and there are a few reasons for this.
The media landscape has proliferated greatly and become increasingly fragmented. Moreover, this proliferation and fragmentation have been responsible for bombarding American consumers with advertising to a greater degree than ever before. Presently, consumers are exposed to an average of 5,000 ads per day, a ten-fold increase since the 1970’s.7 As a result, increased frequency of exposure is necessary in order to break through the significant increase in clutter.
Additionally, just over half of all display ads are in view (see Figure 2).8 In order to have everyone in the target audience see (and therefore be able to react to) the ad, the campaign will need to be set up with a frequency of at least two exposures per person.
Lastly, targeting of the desired audience needs to be taken into consideration. While there’s concern about targeting digital campaigns too narrowly, marketers need to be careful not to go too far in the opposite direction.
One fitting example is for Reckitt’s Finish dishwasher detergent brand. The initial inclination of the Finish brand team was to target all adults 25+ with brand messaging. However, doing so would have resulted in significant waste as only 60% of U.S. households have a dishwasher.9
So even if reach is the client’s KPI for a campaign, frequency and targeting still need to be taken into account in order to ensure effectiveness.

Summary – Reach

  • CPG companies have been moving more towards reach as a KPI on their campaigns.
  • Reach has been shown to have a strong correlation with offline sales, but more so over the longer-term (over six months).
  • Given that roughly half of display ads are in view, campaigns will need to be set at a minimum of two exposures per person
  • While there is a movement to get away from targeting too narrowly, be careful about going the other way and targeting too broadly.



Obviously, before a consumer can buy your brand, they have to know about your brand. But how many impressions are required in order to convey news about your brand without alienating (potential) consumers?
Research from Nielsen provides some insight. Data culled from their Digital Brand Effect (a.k.a. Vizu) studies indicates a strong linkage between frequency of exposure and lift in brand awareness. Moreover, Nielsen has determined that a frequency of 5-9 times drives the most optimal lift in brand awareness. (Click here to see chart).10
Maintaining this level of frequency over the length of the purchase cycle is especially important for fast moving consumer packaged goods that need to hold a clear spot in the minds of consumers.
Why so many exposures? Now that consumers are more likely to either passively (e.g., be targeted with unviewable ads) or actively (e.g., ignoring digital ads, using ad blockers) avoid ads, additional exposures are required to allow messaging to get through.
However, the story may be different for mobile, and for mobile video in particular. A study by Marketing Evolution for the Mobile Marketing Association found just three exposures to generally be optimal for mobile ads, compared to 12-15 exposures for the same video for television. Consumers tend to pay closer attention to what’s on their phones, while television viewers are more often distracted or multi-tasking.11 (Source: “What’s the frequency? Advertisers deal with conflicting data”)* Such a finding presents significant opportunities for DYNAMIQ Brand Select.

Summary – Awareness

  • 5-9 exposures are the most optimal number to drive brand awareness
  • This number is lower for mobile video as consumers are less distracted while looking at their phones than they are while watching television


Purchase Consideration

For consumers who are in the purchase consideration stage, a range of three to 10 exposures is the optimal number. Now, this assessment is not limited to digital media as some of the exposures included in the above could be from television.
The reasoning behind this assessment comes from research from the Journal of Advertising Research, which illustrates that consumers with three to 10 exposures are highly influenced by reason (as opposed to emotion).12 At this stage, consumers are gathering information as to whether a previously purchased brand should considered for future purchase, or a new brand should be incorporated into their consideration set.

Summary – Purchase Consideration

  • 3-10 exposures appear to be the most optimal number to drive purchase consideration, but that range is across all media channels


Purchase Intent

Going back to Nielsen’s findings of Digital Brand Effect studies demonstrated that more than 10 exposures is the most optimal number for driving purchase intent.13 Now, media planners should not deliver too many impressions per consumer as wearout and consumer irritation may have negative effects. But spreading campaign impressions evenly throughout the product’s purchase cycle will reduce the chance of such irritation.

Summary – Purchase Intent

  • Recent research has revealed that frequency should be greater than 10 exposures in order to maximize purchase intent


Offline Sales

In the case of offline sales, here’s where things get confusing. While the P&Gs and Reckitts of the world focus on reach, the effects of television advertising (the best vehicle for driving reach) are over the longer term. As a result, IRI classifies the effects of television as base sales, as opposed to incremental.
However, other research indicates that a significant number of exposures are still required to drive sales due to shorter consumer attention spans and the proliferation of media.
In other words, there is no one size fits all approach. The key is determining whether the campaign is more about longer-term brand building or short-term sales activation. Once that is known, decisions around reach, frequency, and targeting become more apparent.
For brand building campaigns, the emphasis should be on conditioning consumers through repeated exposures.14  It involves reaching as many people in the target audience as possible, even if they are not currently in the market for a specific product.15  The goal is to plant a seed in as consumers’ minds, with the hope that they will add the brand to their consideration set when they are ready to buy.
If the goal is to drive sales in the short-term, marketers need to exploit the equity the brand has accrued. In order to do so, the focus needs to be on consumers who are ready to buy (ie, category buyers). As a result, the audience size is smaller, and needs to be more tightly targeted.16

Figure 3

Summary – Offline Sales

  • If the campaign is meant to drive sales over the long haul, the emphasis needs to be on reach
  • If the campaign is meant to provide a short-term sales boost, it needs to be targeted more tightly with increased frequency


1 “Which is more important, driving reach, or driving optimal frequency?”, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science,
2 Burton, Gollins, McNeely, and Walls, “Revisiting the relationship between ad frequency and purchase intentions: How affect and cognition mediate outcomes at different levels of advertising frequency”, Journal of Advertising Research, Vol. 59, No. 1, 2019  3 Whiteside, Stephen, “Reckitt Benckiser proves the importance of online reach”, WARC, March 2017
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Binet and Field, “Media in Focus: Marketing Effectiveness in the Digital Era”, Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, October 2018
7 Burton, et al.
8 “Display Ad In-View Rates, by Device and Ad Size”, Moat, December 2018, cited by eMarketer,
9 Whiteside, WARC, March 2017
10 Okadar, Gabrijela, “How Frequency of Exposure Can Maximise the Resonance of Your Digital Campaigns”, Nielsen, July 2017
11 Neff, Jack, “What’s the Frequency? Advertisers Deal with Conflicting Data”, Ad Age, Novermber 2018.
12 Burton, et al.
13 Okadar, July 2017
14 Binet and Field, October 2018
15 Ibid.
16 Ibid.