A Media Legend Looks Down On Digital Advances

By Mike Drexler

When I started in the advertising media business in 1960, I was told of a man , who others said, was the smartest person in media. His name was Erwin Ephron.  A few months ago Erwin passed away. I attended his memorial service and those who worked in the media community for the past few decades came to pay their final respects to a real media legend. Erwin’s legacy was that he changed the world of media planning.  As a devoted student of our business, Erwin was never satisfied with the status quo and always challenged those who accepted conventional wisdom as truth because he uncovered things that made some of us skeptical about the way we were working.  Eventually he wrote a book about media planning and made us all aware of fallacies in our thinking. The most notable was his theory of “RECENCY”.

Recency, was the idea that the most efficient and productive way of media investment is through continuity of advertising.  Doesn’t sound so revolutionary but, in fact, resulted in eliminating millions of wasted media dollars.  Many of us remember John Wannamakers famous line “I know that half my media investment is wasted, I just don’t know which half.”  Well, the concept of recency in media planning got a lot closer to responding to that statement.  Here’s why.

Many studies were done on the effects of frequency in media scheduling.  They seemed to suggest that it took at least three exposures for an effective communication to get through to the consumer:  (1) What is it? (2) What of it? (3) Accept or reject the message.  After that, the effect of diminishing returns set it.  So everyone was planning with 3+ frequency in mind. Recency indicated that reach, not frequency, was the goal and that the closer the message was to a consumer’s intent to purchase, the more effective it was. Hence, continuity, since we don’t know precisely when each consumer is in the market.  But, when they are, a single exposure would produce a better result.

Recency generally became an adopted practice for many advertisers.  Today, that concept is being translated into the digital world with more extensive and measurable metrics.  We are learning that by tracking consumer attitudes and behavior, in real time, we can serve an ad in the right place, at the right time in the right context.  And get better results with less waste.  I’m sure Erwin is looking down on digital advances with a big smile on his face. Because he knows we never stop learning.