What PPM Means To Radio Advertisers

Posted by on March 19, 2012

Before we begin, you need to know that a “3.0 frequency” is RadioSpeak for reaching the same listener 3 times. TSL means “Time Spent Listening” and PPM is “Portable People Meter.”

Hi Roy,  

I’m sure that you receive this question often, but I didn’t find your personal response to it online. How do you believe the reduction in frequency realized through the implementation of PPM should affect media planning? The obvious response is that PPM derives a more accurate measure of TSL, and therefore these “new” metrics should now be the benchmark…but what does that say about the “old” 3.0 frequency? Previous studies showed the “old 3.0” was effective. In the end, the PPM 3.0 is clearly a safe bet for results…but the question is whether old schedules, previously deemed effective, should be shifted to reduce reach and increase frequency…and whether that change will further enhance results or not.

Thank You!

Ashley Alexandra Testa

Ashley, you ask a good question.

For those who aren’t completely up-to-speed on Arbitron’s new Portable People Meter (PPM) technology for radio measurement, here are the basics:

1. Arbitron survey respondents now carry a device that records which stations they’re actually listening to, not just the ones they think they’re listening to, as was often the case in the old “diary” based method.

2. This means radio stations get credit for actual listening time rather than just how well they imprint their station slogans and taglines onto our memories.

3. Consequently, lots of “favorite” radio stations are being revealed to have smaller audiences than was previously believed, while lots of second and third-favorite stations are finally able to prove what they’ve always known: listeners were listening to their stations and then reporting to Arbitron they were listening to the “brand name” leader.

4. The average person listens to a larger number of different stations than they realize.

5. This makes it harder than ever to achieve frequency (repetition.)

Now back to Ashley’s question, which was, effectively, “Since PPM shows us a schedule that yielded a diary-based 3.0 frequency yesterday yields only a 2.5 when measured with PPM today, should we start targeting a 2.5 frequency instead of 3.0?”

Ashley, the short answer would be “Yes” if short answers weren’t so dangerous. Our dilemma lies in the premise stated in your note: “In the end, the PPM 3.0 is clearly a safe bet for results…”

A 3.0 frequency is not, and never was, a safe bet.

Results in radio are based on three things:

(1.) Relevance. Does the listener care? And if so, how much?
(2.) Credibility. Does the listener believe the claims made by the advertiser?
(3.) Frequency. (Repetition.) How often is the listener exposed to this message?

Relevance without credibility is the definition of hype.
Credibility without relevance is the answer to a question no one was asking. A message with high relevance and high credibility for a product or service with a short purchase cycle is the perfect Direct Response ad. For such an ad, a frequency of 1.0 will work just fine.

But very few ads have such relevance and credibility that they need to be heard only once.

Insufficient repetition kills a lot of radio campaigns. But radio people often blame poor results on insufficient frequency, saying, “The advertiser just didn’t spend enough money,” when the real problem was in the ad copy: It had low relevance or low credibility or both.

Here’s another problem with that sacred 3.0 frequency: Is a 3.0 spread over a month the same as a 3.0 delivered in one week? How about a 3.0 delivered in just one day?

Again, a short answer: The less sleep between repetitions, the better. Sleep erases advertising. When the relevance and credibility of two ads are equal, depth of memory goes to the one given the highest repetition within the fewest nights sleep.

The “old rule” of a 3.0 was simply this: “The average message must be heard by the same listener at least 3 times within 7 night’s sleep to give that message any chance of being remembered.” Radio people somehow twisted this into, “A 3.0 frequency is a guarantee of success.”

Generally speaking, the shorter the purchase cycle, the sooner the ads will start working. The longer the purchase cycle, the longer it will take for the campaign to gain traction.

High-impact ads for products with short purchase cycles work less and less well the longer you air them. Memorable ads for products with long purchase cycles work better and better the longer you air them.

If you want to have a lot of fun, write high-impact ads for products and events with very short purchase cycles. Talk loud and draw a crowd. Advertisers will treat you like a rock star. When the ads finally burn out and your advertisers begin to frown, find yourself a new batch of twitchy little bastards to impress. The world is full of them.

But if you want to make a lot of money, write memorable ads for advertisers whose products have long purchase cycles.

Tell these advertisers the truth: the same listener needs to hear the ad roughly 3 times a week, 52 weeks a year for that advertiser to become a household word.

The technical term used by cognitive neuroscientists for this process of creating involuntary, automatic recall is to move the message from immediate, electrical “working memory” to mid-term “declarative memory” and then finally on to long-term, chemical, involuntary “procedural memory.” This takes time and repetition but it’s most easily accomplished using sound. Radio and television work best.

Create procedural memory and the customer will automatically think of you when they finally need what you sell. Better yet, they’ll think of you when any of the 250 people in their personal ‘realm of association’ needs what you sell. Procedural memory is the basis of word-of-mouth.

Bottom line: It’s okay to use a PPM 2.5 frequency as “the new 3.0” if you understand that frequency is just one, small reference point in an algebraic equation. The bigger question is whether the advertiser has the financial staying power and patience to drive their message into permanent, procedural memory.

Consistency is the frequency of the frequency.

Ashley, find yourself some advertisers who have the courage and patience of their convictions. Partner with these people. Write great ads for them. Together, you can take over the world.

You go, girl.

Roy H. Williams

Check out what my Home Office team is doing June 22nd.

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