Quick According to the Bible, while in the Garden of Eden, what did Eve ask Adam to take a bite of? An apple, right? Actually, the Bible does not ever identify the fruit that grew on the tree of knowledge. Although it might have been an apple, biblical historians think that it was most likely a pomegranate. The apple myth seems to have been spawned by Renaissance painters adding elements of Greek mythology to Biblical themes.
Radio advertising has its own apple. If you ask a Maine small business owner how many times their commercial needs to be heard to be effective, they will probably answer three. But that, too, is probably not right. So before investing in Portland radio in order to sell its products and services, business owners need to know the truth about the 3 time theory.
This inconceivable notion of the "rule of three" is rooted in research conducted in 1890 by Herman Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist. Ebbinghuas studied how many rehearsals were necessary for his test subjects to memorize a list of nonsense syllables. Flash forward to the mid-1960s. Working from Ebbinghaus's findings, Dr. Herman Krugaman, a public opinion researcher at General Electric developed a model of effective advertising. Krugman discussed his model in an article published in Public Opinion Quarterly titled, "The Impact of Television Advertising: Learning Without Involvement."
A Myth Is As Good A Mile
In his article, Krugman explained that for a commercial to be effective it must attain three. and only three, levels of psychological exposure among the target audience. Krugman describes these three levels as "Curiosity, Recognition, and Decision." Quickly, however, Krugman's model was transmogrified by misguided marketers from three psychological exposures to three media exposures. This erroneous interpretation of Krugmen's model has survived to this day much like the apple from the Garden of Eden.
Krugman himself was dismissive of the three exposure rule propagated by media practitioners. He said, "Let me try to explain the special qualities of one, two, and three exposures. I stop at three because as you shall see there is no such thing as a fourth exposure psychologically; rather fours, fives, etc., are repeats of the third exposure effect. He went on to say, "There is a myth in the advertising world that viewers will forget your message if you don't repeat your advertising often enough. It is this myth that supports many large advertising expenditures...I would rather say the public comes closer to forgetting nothing they have seen [or heard]. They just put it out of their minds until and unless it has some use . . . and [then] the response to the commercial continues."
One Exposure Can Be Enough
So the question remains, how many times must a radio commercial be heard before it is effective. Erwin Ephron, often considered to be the father of modern media planning, told Inside Media magazine, "Today serious students of advertising understand there is no formula answer to the effective frequency question. They believe most exposures are reminders so a single exposure, if relevant, can make the sale.”
Frequency is only one part of a successful media formula. The other components are a compelling message; a well-defined target audience; and a well-reasoned marketing objective. According to Ephron, if you deliver the right message, to the right people, for the right reason, then radio advertising can produce results with a minimum of exposures.
Read more about effective frequency in our recent article, The Radio Advertiser's Toughest Choice: Reach vs. Frequency.
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