Why Creatives Have Trouble With the New Philosophy of Planning


Writers and Art Directors that I meet are somewhat troubled by the new school of advertising planning called Recency. This school holds that while there is knowledge to be gained about a brand through advertising, it is of very little value, unless the consumer is ready and paying attention. Furthermore, it implies that advertising itself is not enough to make the consumer pay attention. No wonder creatives are disturbed. They would prefer to believe that impactful, continuous, creative advertising generates a presence that has value. Call it branding.

Recency contends that consumers screen out advertising except for what interests them. Advertising is only acted upon when consumers are ready to buy. It is a weak, cost effective marketing tool to the general public, which is only strong on individuals who are ripe. In other words, if it is not relevant to a consumer at the moment they receive it, forget it - they do.


This new planning model says that one good exposure in the 7 days prior to a sale is "the" effective piece of communication. This last in a series of exposures is really the most important one and the one that sells. A willingness to buy is more important than the number of exposures delivered and that willingness is not necessarily triggered by advertising. In many ways, this implies one exposure to advertising is enough. This replaces effective frequency as the modern day planning model. Effective frequency told us that 3+ exposures, in the short-term, were needed to persuade and sell.

The work done by John Philip Jones, using Nielsen Single Source Panel Data, is the most often quoted proof of recency notions. The philosophy of recency planning has been effectively trumpeted by its father,media consultant, Errwin Ephron for much of the past decade. Ephron calls it and "timing" the organizing principle of media planning. The body of work itself measures STAS (short term advertising strength). By definition, it measures the effect of advertising on sales mostly during a seven day short term period.

So, there is a window of opportunity to sell an individual in the very short term, once they are predisposed to buying. The problem is that we never really know, beyond the seasonality of some brands, when that window will appear. It isn't anchored. It floats, depending upon the individual. As a result, we must look to deliver as much short-term reach as possible, over repeatedly short periods of time. High continuous (redundant) short-term reach sells products. This, in turn, tells us not to waste money on short-term repetition.

Since many creative people like to see their work presented in the most impactful, repetitious way, they are not too happy about Recency. They refuse to believe that their work can be ignored if it is presented frequently, in short bursts. It seems to run counter to all existing logic. They believe that advertising generates awareness, arouses interest, creates desire and triggers action. Recency holds that in the short term advertising essentially only performs the last task, and the other three are left to other forces.


But maybe there is a misunderstanding that shrouds a common ground. STAS (the measure used by Recency advocates) does not identify any long-term effect of advertising because it simply doesn't measure it. Recency doesn't say one exposure is enough, it says, in the short-term, added exposures are a waste, to the consumer who is ready. The problem is that for those consumers who are not ready, there is no research linking their eventual purchase readiness to what prompts their readiness. Is it merely being out of soap or frustrated by a car that continues to break down that readies consumers? We don't really know what the forces of readiness are. Maybe creatives should feel justifiably free to believe in the value of their cumulative messages, in concert with Recency Theory. There is also no evidence to dissuade planners from believing that a residue of commercials delivered over time has a value that eventually helps to, trigger a readiness to receive that all important last spot that prompts purchase.

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© Media Directors Ink : December 2000


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