Advertise in High Frequency - Jason Burlin

Advertise in High Frequency

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Not all marketing terms are created equal. Everyone likes to talk about ROI and ROAS as they are considered the king of all metrics. There are many important terms and metrics in advertising that each share and represent different values. While ROAS or ROI represents the end result of your ad, I would like to talk about one of the most important and oftentimes overlooked metrics that can dramatically impact the performance of your advertisement. 

It’s a metric that is not widely known and is called frequency. It’s a metric that is available on most advertising platforms and is defined as ‘The average number of times each person saw your ad.’ It’s a simple calculation of where the impressions (number of times an ad has been shown) divided by reach (the number of times the ad has been shown to unique users). 

Off the bat, frequency doesn’t sound that sexy.

Mostly it is viewed as a metric to measure and help increase brand awareness or recall rate to an audience group and is used as a tool to increase awareness among large brands who advertise on a large scale. So generally it’s a metric that is frequently associated with recognition, not with the end result of your advertisement.

For small businesses that must run ads profitability at all times, ad frequency is something that they are often concerned about. The logic here is that if they keep frequency low, they can reach as many unique users for the same cost vs reaching a smaller group of users more than once. There are third-party tools and features directly on advertising platforms like Facebook and Google that allow you to cap and moderate frequency at a certain level to ensure that your ads focus on reaching new users. 

For me, frequency is a misunderstood metric. Instead of learning how to use it to their advantage, advertisers try to limit it. You might be thinking the same, why reach the same user twice where I can use that advertising budget or that ad impression for a new user. In theory, it makes sense, reaching more users for the same amount of money will get you more conversions, but in reality, it doesn’t work like that.

It’s a crowded and competitive space…

Think for a second how many ads a user sees when they browse anywhere online. Facebook, Google, Youtube, Snapchat, you name it! Ad-free space exists only on Wikipedia or paid subscriptions like Netflix or Hulu. 

By design, advertising platforms cram as many ads as they possibly can to ensure maximum profits and that means that your ads are going to be among billions of other ads served per month and that matters.

It matters because the more ads a user sees from different advertisers, the less likely he is to remember each one of them. And this raises the question, is it better to reach the same user more than once to reinforce his familiarity by engaging with him and showing him 5-6 different ads in a given period of time, or is it better to allocate those ad impressions to other users?

It’s the art of selling….

Imagine being at a big summit somewhere (during the post-pandemic era) and handing out business cards to as many people as possible. Your goal is to network and land new clients through mingling and trying to sell your services and products in the best way possible. What strategy do you anticipate being most successful? Focusing on quantity and trying to give out as many business cards as possible? Or perhaps giving out a round of business cards and sensing who has interest and dialing in on those people. You can then start selling yourself by giving out more information and creating more engagement to increase the chances of a conversion. 

Remember that those same people who you gave your business card will receive an overwhelming amount of business cards from other businesses.

Once you understand the importance of creating meaningful engagements and in-depth interactions with users, you will realize that it’s not about the number of users you reach, it’s about which users you reach and how you engage with them. 

The biggest advantage of advertising with high frequency is the ability to make your business seem bigger than what it truly is in the eyes of your potential customers. Think of how you can make your brand appear in the eyes of your potential customers. Think of how easy it is to create the perception that your business is everywhere. Imagine being a fashion brand, and targeting your potential customers or followers every time they go to their feed with a different ad for a different shirt or dress. Post after post, image after image, they either will get sick of seeing your ads or hooked! Most people who come across your ads will never buy anything from you and it’s that very small percentage of users who might actually make a purchase. If you heavily focus your ads on that small percentage of users, then you’re focusing your efforts on the most important users and increasing the chances of getting more conversions. 

Advertise on high frequency

Now that I emphasized the importance of using high frequency in ads (and hopefully convinced you it’s worth looking into) let’s discuss an action plan: 

Segment your warm audience – The first thing that you have to do is implement a strategy that will segment your users based on the level of intent and familiarity users might have. There is no one-size-fits-all solution here, but the idea is to shift more of your ads towards people who have visited your website recently, follow you on social media, or have purchased in the past from your business. 

Most advertising platforms let you create these audience segmentation seamlessly and call it “custom audiences” or just “audiences”. Include different segmentation variations to ensure you are including all potential visitors. The reason that you should do this is because segmentation ensures that all of your campaigns are including your warm visitors in their targeting, and not just in your retargeting campaign. 

If you don’t include these segmentations, then the algorithms platforms will dictate which users to reach and how many times. Since they are looking for the lowest cost conversions available, the reach among users will be segmented differently. Using this segmentation, you will be creating an intent among users who might not have been interested in purchasing from you to begin with and thus might not have been targeted more than once using different targeting variations. 

A streamline of rich creatives – You might be thinking, well these are what retargeting campaigns are for and this strategy above is not new news. If you are not familiar, retargeting ads is a strategy of showing ads to users normally a “come back or call back” call to action that includes an image and a specific message to users who have abandoned their cart or left the website before they made a conversion.  In this case, you would normally select to target users who have recently visited your website and didn’t complete a purchase or a conversion. Then, you would write a specific message and add a creative that will hopefully encourage them to return and purchase, and repeat delivery and reach for the same ad until it becomes unprofitable. 

The idea here is not to use the same boring and repetitive retargeting ad over and over again. People do not want to see the same ad twice. We want to advertise to users without them feeling that we are selling to them. This means that we want to target them with a rich variety of ads and different creatives to provide them with a compelling and engaging interaction. This will mean that warm and cold users will be exposed to different formats of your ads and different messaging in their journey from prospecting users to potential customers. This can include a mix of social media posts that you upload to Facebook or Instagram, informative posts that reinforce your brand authority or brand image, videos, or other powerful creatives that generate the intent to purchase a product or service. There is a balance to be met between different creatives and showing ads at the right time to maximize the chances of a conversion. 

Think if you were the head of marketing for something generic like batteries. Say you were the head of marketing for a company like Energizer. You wouldn’t think of using the same type of video ad over and over again on a large scale and expect it to convince people that your batteries are better than all of the competitors. Instead, you would start by creating a sequence of ads to tell a story. It can start by showing short commercials on TV to increase awareness, educate viewers and create brand awareness, then it can be on street banners to reinforce recognition of familiarity of the brand. It can be on bus stops as well where viewers tend to spend more time and that space can be used to educate them. 

Finally, it can be a promotional advertisement right next to the cashier at the supermarket that serves as the ultimate call to action since they might just be in “the market” to purchase and you want to encourage them to choose your batteries over all others. You wouldn’t think that the alternative of showing the same ad over and over again would perform just as well would you? Then, the same kind of thinking applies to advertising online. Use a rich variety of creatives to tell a story , rather than spamming your potential customers with the same repetitive ad creative. 

In summary  

Frequency is often overshadowed by terms like ROA and ROI but should not be overlooked. Many advertisers immediately default to setting the frequency of an advertisement to ‘low’. They think that by doing this, that their dollar will stretch further by reaching a larger audience.

What they are overlooking is that by setting the frequency to low they are missing an opportunity to make conversions on warm users. Warm users don’t respond well to seeing the same ad over and over, so it’s important to use a variety of high-quality creatives. Utilizing frequency in this way allows you to tell a story to your audience rather than burning them out with the same boring ad over and over.

This strategy is not to be confused with retargeting. By segmenting your audience and using a variety of different ads, you begin to build brand recognition that may be crucial in convincing the warm user to make a conversion.

jason burlin

A seasoned marketer with more than a decade of experience in online paid advertising. Managed more than $150M in ad spend and worked with more than 500+ brands. He is known as the unconventional marketer.



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