Impact or Frequency? The eternal debate.

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Media strategy is often portrayed as being all about which media is purchased to reach a particular target audience.

But there’s another strategic stage before that, and that is to decide the optimal length for any given ad, in order to create the right reaction in that target audience.

A “standard” TV or radio ad lasts thirty seconds. And TV and radio stations love them because they’re neat and well understood, and they can be lumped together in brackets easily, with low administrative overhead.

But there are many more options available.

Go Short

Shorter ads (usually 15 seconds) can be “rotated” more often, thus maximising the reach of an advertising schedule – quite simply, the number of people who see or hear the ad.

This is often popular with advertisers on a limited budget, because their ad gets out there in front of more ears or eyeballs.

There are two negatives to be considered, though.

Obviously the shorter length means the ad can say less, which may mean the advertiser ends up having to choose between useful messages. And people listening or viewing have less time to “get into the ad” – it’s there and gone before they’ve really noticed it – so reach may be improved but understanding and impact both lessened.

For this reason, the shorter an ad, the simpler it must be. Or it must be “reminding” consumers of longer ads that they have “learned”, where all the information carried in the longer ad doesn’t need to be delivered again.

Sometimes shorter ads, though, if strategised carefully, can dominate an ad break.

In the past MOP have used three x 10 second TV ads – one at the start of the ad break, one in the middle, and one at the end, to “appear” as the most dominant advertiser in a break. The trick with this type of creative strategy is to ensure the 10 second format is long enough to imprint whatever it is you want the target to know – in this case, a web address – and then for the media buying company to persuade the media companies to (a) allow the creative strategy, and (b) allow it without charging a premium for the unusual format. We have also recently used this technique for three short radio spots.

Advertisers need to be aware that media companies often try and charge more for shorter ads (typically 60% of the cost of a 30” ad for a 15 second one, for example). This is partly historic – it’s just always been that way – and partly because the more complex their “advertising deck” becomes, the longer they spend sorting out which ads go where in their programmes, so they seek to discourage the practice. Like everything in life, it ends up being a negotiation.

Some media buying personnel or companies often prefer “simple” negotiations, because they take less time and offer less hassle. Good ones, though, will work hand-in-glove with the creative agency to make their creative vision “happen”.

In Australia, “hyper short” ads – eg five seconds or even shorter – are beginning to appear, especially when carried online. They have certainly been experimented with more imaginatively overseas, where their very brevity becomes a talking point in itself.

Go Long

Longer ads – eg 45, 60, or even 120 seconds – will obviously dominate a break more, and allow more in-depth “storytelling”, hopefully increasing the impact of the ad on the audience. They are particularly useful when seeking to send an emotional message which the audience needs to take on board. They can be combined with shorter ads to maximise impact and memorability.

A favourite tactic is to have a 45 second ad at the start of an ad break, and a 15 second one at the end, and hopefully only pay the equivalent cost for a 60. This is an optimal combination of both impact and frequency.

MOP have previously used standout two minute ads to launch major TV campaigns – one for Police recruitment, and one for Nursing Recruitment, both of which were highly successful – supported by shorter ads (and other materials) to increase the rotation once the messages in the long ads were clearly imprinted on the market.

How to decide?

The eternal debate – shorter or longer – will continue, because there’s always more ways than one to skin a cat. And, of course, whatever length your ad is, you need to obey the basic rules of advertising, the most important of which is always “Be noticed.” Short or long, the most dangerous ad you can run is a bland ad.

MOP logoSo our advice to clients is very simple: take the time to understand the recommendations from both your creative agency and your media buying company, and don’t assume either of them have a lock on being right.

Make them justify their recommendations based on only one criteria – which direction will produce the strongest result against your target market.

“Results. Nothing less.” That’s the goal.

Author: Stephen Yolland

Director of Creative Strategy and Partner @ Magnum Opus Partners.

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