Advertising Insights

September 8, 2016

Reach and Frequency Dynamics: Smarter Planning, Greater Impact

Learn from three Facebook researchers how smarter reach and frequency planning can lead to your best ad campaigns.

Advertising InsightsCreative Effectiveness

    Facebook Marketing Science and Facebook IQ recently explored how efficient planning can move business objectives in “Reach Matters: Driving Business Results at Scale” and “Effective Frequency: Reaching Full Campaign Potential.” This research took our understanding of the value in reach and frequency planning a step further and showed how actionable planning can lead to impactful results through Facebook and Instagram’s people-based marketing and measurement.

    To better understand how advertisers should be thinking about these learnings in practice, Facebook IQ recently spoke with the researchers behind these pieces: Facebook’s Jon Feigenbaum, Kumi Harischandra and Deven Patel. Edited excerpts from that conversation are below.

    In the mass media world, we can generally plan to optimise reach or frequency, not both. The research done by Facebook reminds us that frequency is at the heart of delivering an effective campaign of persuasion and reach becomes a question of how much persuasion do we need to meet our goals.

    We now have a growing ability to plan reach and frequency in tandem based on a clearer understanding of how campaign volumes drive desired brand and business results.

    Neil Hurman, Chief Planning Officer

    OMD Media

    Where do traditional industry thoughts on reach and frequency come from?

    Where do traditional industry thoughts on reach and frequency come from?

    Kumi: Conventional thinking on media planning and reach and frequency really comes out of traditional advertising methods. Think about TV advertising. It has—and it continues to—relied on the concepts of estimated reach and frequency to plan who will see an ad and how often they will see it before it is actually served. This process of buying and planning on traditional media has also been an established workflow between agencies and publishers. It’s sometimes hard to make adjustments because of traditionally lengthy processes—and planning, buying and measurement all really happen within separate spaces.

    How is this process different when planning on a platform like Facebook and Instagram?

    Kumi: Our people-based marketing allows marketers to plan for reach and frequency hand-in-hand, with the added ability to activate that plan with the same level of control. Our measurement methods have helped us develop a good understanding of how different reach and frequency strategies can be used to achieve business objectives. And, of course, planning, buying and measurement can all happen within one space on our platform.

    Now that we’re beginning to better connect these pieces, advertisers can think about reach and frequency planning on digital platforms in different ways than they’ve thought about them before. Successful planning starts with the right audience. By better understanding if an audience is responding to ads as intended, advertisers can drive the impact they desire. No matter the medium or device, the root of generating impact and results is all based on planning for the best audience.

    Based on your recently published research, what have your analyses brought to light about reach and frequency planning on digital?

    Based on your recently published research, what have your analyses brought to light about reach and frequency planning on digital?

    Jon: Our combined research explored questions like “Why does reach matter in driving scale to campaigns?” and “What frequency level is sufficient to capture people’s attention and change their behaviors?”

    These research learnings have begun to uncover the full story of what effective planning looks like on Facebook and Instagram and how it impacts the business results that matter. This crucial connection that Kumi mentioned has been difficult to bring to life at scale in the past on traditional mediums.

    Marketer Takeaways: Driving Total Impact

    In both pieces, a major takeaway is thinking about planning campaigns in hand with total impact. Can you further describe the idea of “driving total impact” in terms of media planning some more?

    Jon: As we wrote about in our paper, before campaign planning can even begin, marketers need to first think of their campaign objectives and which business results they want to drive. From there, planning reach and frequency in terms of where the greatest impact can be driven is key.

    Kumi: Consider this common marketer question: “How can I cost-effectively create impact amongst my target consumers to achieve my business goals?” In our research on reach we focused on the metric of total impact. Whether the goal is to move a brand metric or in-store sales, when it comes down to it, all advertisers want to generate the largest amount of positive change through their campaigns.

    Consider the following illustrative example of two scenarios for a campaign execution:




    Precise, smaller audience

    x 12%

    Broader audience

    x 8%

    When an audience is too narrowly targeted, it limits the total impact of a campaign. When audiences are more broad, they allow for greater reach and ultimately more opportunity for impact. From our study of large brand advertisers, when campaign spend is added into the equation, we found that having a reach-driven campaign generates more impact more cost-efficiently for both offline sales and brand metrics.

    Jon: For any advertiser, if you’re not reaching a sufficient amount of people, how can you truly drive scale to your business? We know there is a point of diminishing return and reaching 90% of a population is probably not the most cost-effective solution. But the concept of impact can help marketers understand the fact that reach matters for scale and growth. This is especially true for brands that list growth, market penetration and ongoing favorable sales as key drivers of success.

    How do you relate Jon and Kumi’s findings from “Reach Matters” to the research in “Effective Frequency”?

    Deven: To bring these two ideas together, we can consider the importance of planning for reach of your marketing message at an effective frequency level. In other words, the frequency level should be planned in tandem with achieving a healthy level of scale to achieve desired business outcomes. And as we found, considering both of these pieces together will help capture more impact.

    I explored how different frequency levels impacted total brand lift, assuming a healthy level of reach. In the paper, I conducted the study as a global meta-analysis of large brand advertisers with a high share of voice in their markets. The results showed that a frequency cap of around 1 a week captured 85% of total potential brand lift for ad recall. And for purchase intent, a frequency cap of 2 a week captured 95% of total potential brand lift. These results show that although a relatively low level of frequency may be sufficient to ensure your target audience recalls a message, higher frequency levels are required to elicit greater behavioral change.

    As a result of these pieces of research, what would you recommend advertisers keep in mind when planning campaigns?

    Deven: There is a large opportunity for marketers to take advantage of the fact that digital allows for smarter planning. Less waste means a greater opportunity to increase the reach and frequency of your campaign and deliver more value. On traditional mediums it’s difficult to accurately increase the reach or frequency of a campaign in a controlled manner. Someone could be served an ad impression many more times than is effective in one week, and there’s little-to-no ability to control that.

    The research in each study was based on large brand advertisers. These results could have varied—for example, if we had focused on smaller advertisers. This is why in the frequency research we also discuss the factors that influence effective reach and frequency levels for any brand or campaign. The important thing here is to consider planning for frequency at a healthy level of reach for your brand and campaign.



    Weekly Cap of ≥ 1-2


    Established brand
    High market share
    Long purchase cycle
    Less frequent usage
    High Share of voice


    New brand
    Low market share
    Short purchase cycle
    Frequent usage
    Low share of voice

    Low message complexity
    High message uniqueness
    Existing campaign/message


    High message complexity
    Low message uniqueness
    New campaign/message

    Low season
    Long campaign duration
    Continuous scheduling
    Multiple media channels


    High season
    Short campaign duration
    Pulse or flight scheduling
    Facebook only

    Let me give you some of the examples we outlined in the paper. Let’s think about a high-frequency strategy. New brands and brands with low market share are likely to benefit from higher frequency levels. The same is true of brands who want to cut through the high volume of media advertising during holiday seasons. In addition to all these factors, creative quality also plays a crucial role in this. With our ability to isolate reach and frequency levels, we’re continuing research to further understand what levels are most ideal to generate the greatest impact for advertisers across categories and at varied creative strengths.

    As you continue to expand your research, what do you hope to learn next?

    Deven: The relationship between reach and frequency is complex, and there are many nuances we hope to continue researching. It’s clear that to move business results, marketers need to understand what it takes to drive the metrics that matter, and we want to continue to help them build that understanding with research that sheds light on smart planning and creative strategies.

    Advertising InsightsCreative Effectiveness

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