A Wakeup Call for Networks, Agencies and Brands: Consumers Are Fed Up with the Lack of Ad Frequency Controls

On TV And Video” is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in advanced TV and video.

Today’s column is written by Julia Smaldone, senior strategist at Media Kitchen.

It’s an unfortunate experience with which each of us is all too familiar. You’re binge watching your favorite show, catching up on the news or streaming live sports, and are subject to ad breaks featuring the exact same commercials, over and over.

As standard viewers, it’s a nuisance. As a marketer, it is especially frustrating because we know how easily avoidable is this problem.

A simple frequency cap will do the trick. But without it, users often have a poor experience that results in resentment of the brands featured in the repetitive commercials.

Repetitive ads are a flawed marketing strategy

As a marketing strategy, foregoing a frequency cap simply doesn’t make sense.

Do the brands realize that they are serving at least one commercial per ad break to the same viewer, and sometimes the same ad more than once within a single ad break? If they do realize what they’re doing, do they think that this is a fruitful marketing strategy?

Certainly this result can’t be the goal. As marketers, we know that frequency is important in driving brand recognition and achieving goals across the funnel. But we also all know that there are limits to the power of frequency.

Especially in a connected TV environment, there’s a very big difference between a frequency of 3-4x per week and 3-4x per hour. Such an obviously poor user experience makes us wonder why brands aren’t more mindful of applying frequency caps to their CTV campaigns.

The onus here is not just on brands or their agencies that are responsible for these media plans. The networks themselves share some responsibility for accepting plans without frequency caps in the first place.

Of course, ad time is how networks earn revenue, but are there really so few CTV advertisers that their only option is to run spots from the same four brands? Based on spend patterns, this seems unlikely. According to eMarketer, brands spent a collective $8.1 billion on CTV advertising in 2020, with that figure expected to increase by 41% to $11.4 billion in 2021.

The reasons behind the lack of frequency control 

With this spend volume, this lack of frequency control is puzzling.

First, why aren’t networks making more use of these dollars and apparent ad inventory? Surely there’s room to diversify ad breaks given the volume of advertisers investing in CTV.

Second, with this increased spend investment from brands, as well as an increase in total CTV users (214 million in 2021), networks should be more mindful of the user experience they are creating. Competition among streaming services is fierce, and ad-supported services are already at a disadvantage for share of viewers when stacked up against ad-free services like Netflix and Disney Plus.

To be fair, lack of consistency in frequency measurement could certainly be a factor here. Networks differ in the way that they define daily frequency caps, which could be based on a single stream session vs. a full 24 hours or other metrics. This lack of consistency could result in a disconnect between a brand’s intended frequency settings and final delivery.

How to fix this lose-lose-lose situation

Ultimately, the lack of frequency control on CTV is a lose-lose-lose situation for brands, networks and viewers. Brands end up oversaturating streams, annoying consumers, and wasting ad dollars. Networks are limiting their pool of potential advertising revenue and could annoy consumers to the point that they take their viewing elsewhere.

Both the problem and the solution here seem so obvious, it makes us wonder why brands and networks haven’t been more reactive to the problem. In a way, it points to a larger issue within the advertising industry.

Brands and networks alike are so hyper-focused on numbers, they’ve lost sight of the human side of marketing. Sure, an uncapped campaign will bring in significant revenue for networks and hit brands’ reach and impression goals. But at what unmeasurable cost?

In today’s world and cultural climate, there are better ways brands could invest their ad dollars and better ways networks could make use of ad time.

Brands should of course continue to invest in CTV advertising – it’s an excellent awareness-driving channel and important piece of the business model for many networks. But brands can, and should, invest with more nuanced understanding of the viewer experience.

There is a bigger picture to brand marketing these days. Today’s consumers are hyper aware and hypercritical of brands about everything from their labor practices, ethical beliefs, diversity and investments. Advertising offers a chance for brands to directly show consumers that they hear them, to use their massive marketing budgets to do more than place an ad on their screen every chance they get.

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1 Comment

  1. Tim Meng

    With the IDFA going away, there is no way to do cross channels frequency capping.