Reach and Frequency are the most basic of advertising principles, and the most overlooked. Reach refers to the number of people who are touched by a message. Frequency refers to how often they are exposed to the message. Ideally, both numbers would be maximized, but as everyone has a budget those numbers need to be managed for optimal effectiveness. Whether we’re managing a TV ad buy or Google Ads campaign, we always pay close attention to reach and frequency.


Reach refers to a specific target. The target is defined by the geography and demographics needed by the advertiser. An advertiser who wants to reach all Women 18+ in Manhattan will have a different reach total than an advertiser who wants to reach all Women Homeowners in Manhattan. Reach is usually defined as a percentage, we reached 50% of all Women in Manhattan 18+. Obviously, it is important to know the size of the target.


The next question is how often do we want to reach that target audience? Consumers are exposed to thousands of messages every day. How many exposures to the message are needed before they remember a message? Effective frequency is the number of times a person must be exposed to a message before it elicits a response of some kind.  What is an effective frequency is a highly debatable question. Too little repetition and no one will remember your message. Too much frequency and you will burn out and potentially upset your target audience.

Very simply, Reach without Frequency will lead to failed marketing campaigns. Seth Godin in his book Permission Marketing uses an analogy of seeds and water to demonstrate the importance of assuring adequate frequency in your promotional campaigns. 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?

How Much Reach

Where do you start? With the budget. Next consider your target audience. Who are they and where do they live? How many of them are there? A good benchmark for minimal reach in a campaign is 50%. Reach is especially important when running a new campaign, launching a new product or packaging.

How Much Frequency

Frequency is especially important if the business is in a highly competitive industry. Repetition may be needed to cut through the clutter. Frequency will also help with deadlines. An advertiser pushing a Veteran’s Day Sale will want frequency to create a sense of urgency. They know that once the sale is over the ads will cease and any consumer burn-out will quickly wane.

For many years the standard frequency was three. A person who saw or heard an ad 3 times would be familiar with the brand and offer. In today’s advertising-heavy world that number is considered low. While placing ads contextually (banners for a furniture store next to an article on home decorating) is thought to make advertising more memorable it is important to consider the type of advertising. TV and video contain Sight, Sound, and Motion, which creates a greater impression. Static banner ads are easier to miss as they can blend into the page.

When buying media, it is imperative to understand the relationship between Reach and Frequency in advertising. This is where a good Advertising Agency can guide you. An agency will have the tools to determine reach and frequency of a campaign. They can help you determine objectives and factor that into your ad placements. The right media mix is key to the success of an advertising campaign. An Advertising Agency will also help you develop enough varied messaging, so you prevent customer burn-out. Advertising with the correct reach and frequency, and good messaging has a much greater chance of success. A professional marketer can save both time and money.