Erwin Ephron (1934-2013) wrote an article titled Recency Planning, originally published March 18, 1998, in his Media Week column called The Blunt Pencil.

« John Philip Jones, author of When Ads Work, suggests advertising’s strength is that it can be applied continuously, because it does what it does at a very small cost compared to the major alternative, which is price promotion. »

« Andrew Ehrenberg, explains that advertising is a relatively weak, essentially defensive force among the many forces that drive mature consumer markets. »

« If advertising is a weak force, how can a single ad message produce a strong effect? The answer is “Recency.” The idea that advertising messages “sell” those consumers [who] are ready to buy. There is no inconsistency between strong effects on certain individuals and weak effects on the total market. »

« Recency is gradually replacing effective frequency as the planning model. »

« This means that in the short-term, reach is cost-effective, repetition is wasteful. »

« It relies more on dispersion and less on targeting. »

« A single exposure can work only because it is the last of series of brand messages consumers see. It is effective this time because that consumer is now in the market. »

« I believe Recency planning applies equally well to both cars and corn flakes. »

« And in either case, one exposure does not do all the work. When John Jones finds “a single exposure close to purchase can trigger a response,” this is not the first exposure, but the most recent in a series of exposures. It is effective because the consumer is in the market. »

« Some exposures sell, but all exposures build broad market awareness, shift attitudes and help create the brand value, which is the foundation for the next sale. These are the hard and soft effects of TV advertising. »

« For Mercedes, one incremental sale can pay the costs of network messages to a million men and women. True, most of them will never buy the car, but those messages are not wasted either. They help to create the broad-market perception that Mercedes is special, which makes owning one so attractive to the small group of consumers who have the money.2For super-upscale products, value to the purchaser is often in the eye of all those millions of non-purchasers. »

« A Recency plan does not spend less money. It reduces weekly weight to add more weeks of advertising. Since most brands aren’t running 52 weeks of advertising now, Recency simply reallocates the current budget. Brands do not spend less, they spend more effectively. »

« Since flighting wastes money on short-term frequency, continuity is a winning strategy. If you buy reach, while the competition is buying frequency, you’re using the dollars more effectively. »

« Certainly sales are lost because of too little frequency, but more sales are lost because of no frequency at all. The Jones frequency response curve shows reach is more cost-effective than frequency. »

« Reaching three consumers, once, will generate more purchases than reaching one consumer three times. I believe this is because whether a consumer is “ready to buy” is more important than the number of messages the consumer receives. »


Erwin Ephron is the author of Media Planning – From Recency to Engagement (2006, 150 pages).

One thought on “Advertising Recency

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