Media Planning from Recency to Engagement

by Erwin Ephron (1934-2013)    

Erwin Ephron was a media executive at several ad agencies. He was a proponent of the recency model of media planning, which aims to be present when people are most receptive to the advertising. Recency attempts “to intercept the next purchase with a brand message.”

“We now appreciate it is events in their lives—the empty cereal box, the high telephone bill, the broken dishwasher, the expiring car lease, the wedding anniversary—that gets them to make a purchase, not the advertising.”

“Advertising works with consumers who are in the market for the product being advertised at the time. It doesn’t convince those people who need something. Life does (the car lease is up). It gets those people to buy a brand (Toyota is having a sale).”

“Along with this thinking about the importance of consumers being ‘in the market,’ a wealth of new single-source research from here and the UK, showed that close to the purchase, one advertising exposure is far more cost-effective than multiple exposures in influencing which brand is purchased. Using that evidence, recency planning reasons that purchases are made each week, and planners don’t know who will make them, so the goal is to reach as many different consumers as possible in as many different weeks as possible. It is a continuous weekly reach strategy, which results in more weeks at lower weight than a traditional plan.”

“Once you stop believing the second or third exposure is worth more than the first, reach becomes everything. I think most brands should buy the highest total weekly reaches they can afford, because different people are in the market for a product across time.”

“Recency drives advertising effectiveness and weekly reach is how to execute it… Reach not frequency, continuity not flighting, one-week not four-weeks, cost-per-reach not just CPM.”

“Recency planning doesn’t claim one exposure is enough. It argues that, in the short-term, additional exposure is wasteful, because the recipient is not likely to be in the market. Scanner panel data bear this out. They show reaching more consumers once will result in greater total sales than reaching fewer consumers more often—and the costs are about the same.”

“The exposure that triggers a response is not the first exposure, but the most recent of a series of exposures. It is effective this time, because now that consumer is in the market. Continuous advertising does create a kind of frequency—which I call ‘presence.’ When advertising works it’s by being there. These ideas apply to all products—cars as well as cereal.”

“Recency planning doesn’t cut budgets. It reallocates them, reducing weekly weight to add weeks.”

“Product launches are a special case. They argue for greater frequency, but only because the goals are different from those of established brand campaigns… For example, if a new product needs shelf movement to maintain distribution it will be willing to over-spend to get it.”


“Marketing-mix models show sales response to a medium is inversely related to its share of advertising dollars. As more dollars are spent, be it in TV, or magazines or online, the sales response per-dollar for that medium tends to go down. So no matter how much more effective one medium is at the start, there comes a point where the next dollar should be spent in another.”

“In media, satiation is diminishing marginal returns… It shows up in two ways. There is decreasing marginal response to frequency, (the earlier exposure has greater effect). And there is decreasing marginal response to concentration, (the earlier GRP in any medium has the greater effect). The first supports reach, not frequency, the second argues for media-mix.”

“Acceleration is increasing returns to continuity. There is a higher marginal response to each added week in advertising. This is probably a systematic effect of prior weeks of advertising, which increase brand awareness and saliency, and make advertising and all marketing efforts more productive.”


“Media is first an audience gatherer… It can assist engagement by attracting an audience suited to the message… But looking to media for advertising engagement crosses the line. That’s not media’s job. In the immortal words of FCB’s Roger Baron, ‘If you want more engagement, make a more engaging ad.’”


“Advertising does many things. It influences the next purchase and, over time, builds brand awareness and saliency in the larger market, which in turn makes it easier to influence the next purchase. Recency’s real contribution to advertising is to focus on the next purchase, whether the brand is new or established, cornflakes or cars.”

“Why are short-term effects so important? Certainly, they do not fully capture the payback of advertising. There is good evidence that first-year payback more than doubles over time through heightened awareness, saliency and repeat purchase. Yet the idea that you plant today to reap tomorrow is far less satisfactory than earn-as-you-go. It leaves advertising as an easy cut when dollars are tight.”

“Our analysis of MMA data found that advertising delivers positive short-term paybacks for six of the 20 Non-CPG brands, but for only one of the 25 CPG brands studied. It showed that positive payback correlates strongly with brand size, and it found that Magazines pay back more than Television at current budget allocations. These results are cautioned by the relatively small number of cases in the database.”


“Our TV-centric media thinking begins and ends with delivering a message. Audience is its measure. Audience is its goal. But the real goal is the sale and not many plans attempt to extrapolate up from exposure to sales in a reasoned way to show why the plan will work. They should.”

“It’s an interesting idea to think of a media plan as a sales plan. One that uses the goals and measurements for each medium that are most closely linked to sales. Then it’s obvious how other media fit in… Each can have fair claim to the media budget based upon measures of response, not just exposure, reach, and frequency.”

The book is a collection of 23 articles originally published between 1992 and 2005.

Ephron, Erwin. Media Planning from Recency to Engagement. Hyderabad, India: ICFAI University Press, 2006. Buy from

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