On Reach

The concept of reach is having something of a moment. It seems as if when challenged on metrics like impressions or ratings, many practitioners, who surely should know better start pivoting towards reach. 

The other week I read somewhere about ‘a crisis in reach.’ There is no crisis in reach (if the media numbers bother you that much just go and buy a national OOH campaign), what there is on the other hand is a crisis in understanding what exactly the word ‘reach’ means.  

At risk of turning this blog into the Ladybird Book of Media Planning, let’s go back to basics.  

Reach is the % of the target estimated to have had an opportunity to see the campaign or ad at least once. It isn’t a hard concept to grasp. 

What is hard, and what is therefore duly ignored is the notion that it really is not wise to compare apples to oranges. 

Ask yourself, or indeed your favourite sale rep the following. 

‘You say I will reach 80% of my target with this video campaign. Can you explain what you mean by ‘reach?’ 

‘Ah, so 80% will see my ad. How long for?’ 

‘And if in my judgement 2 seconds is insufficient to get my message across, what proportion saw, say 10 seconds? 

‘And when you say ‘see’ what exactly do you mean? Is it they see the programme or block in which the ad appears, or the ad itself?’ 

‘And does the number refer to the device, or the person using the device?’ 

The point is that the answers depend on where you are in the world (our US friends still largely speak of programme performance not ad break, or ad performance) and of course which particular channel is being used. 

This goes back to the issue of definition. What is a viewer, and what criteria do you need to satisfy in order to qualify as one? 

Advertisers really don’t care about reach, impressions, ratings except as staging posts along the way to sales. If ‘x’ reach leads to ‘y’ sales then great, but what matters at the end of the day is the ‘y’ sales. 

Further it may very well be that less reach, however defined but made up of exposures in quality environments that are not just ‘seen’ but noticed, is what really matters. 

I know it can be tedious delving back in history to make a point but when the great Mike Yershon sold his client Fiat on only advertising in centre breaks, in ITV’s main news and only ever first in break, ‘reach’ was not the only concept on his mind. 

Mike and others like him knew well, rigorous research evidence or not, that noticeability counted and whilst it is easy to say if no-one has the opportunity to see the ad then by definition no-one could notice it, that assumes we cannot keep two concepts in our heads at the same time. 

In a forthcoming asi podcast interview, my Crater Lake colleague David Beaton, from the advanced analytics business Navigation makes this point very well.  

David suggests that quality of exposure matters a lot when it comes to assessing eventual outcomes. 

Paul Feldwick in his excellent book ‘Why Does The Pedlar Sing?’ does much the same when he refers to the power of fame. 

You get to be famous by being noticed. Not (just) by reaching some poorly defined media metric that is only there to help inform what is at the end of the day a refined guess, an estimate. 

Media metrics like reach are a staging post along the way, a means to an end. Not the end in itself. 

  1. Of course all that you say in your piece about Reach is “spot on” – although for quite a large proportion of my Research Career, me and my colleagues and our Advertiser Clients and their Ad Agencies talked about Reach in terms of those who had *Heard* as well as *Seen* the advertising we were evaluating. Of course we also talked about Impacts, Gross Impressions, and GRPs – in whatever way anyone wanted to refer that particular metric, and that led us all to talk about what is best called “Average Frequency”. None of all of this type of “Coverage & Frequency” analysis took any account whatsoever of the Impact of the Creative , Position in Break or on the Page. And certainly not of the Context of the vehicle in which the Ad was carried. Not perfect I’ll agree, but we all seemed to operate, each on our respective sides of the Seller/Buyer Fence, to a certain consistency of definition of what we meant, and most of us most of time sort of knew what we were talking about.
    Just saying ….
    Mike Dinsdale
    Founder of Ace InformatiX

  2. Thanks Mike.
    Life was a bit simpler then, although we do seem to be making a bit of a dog’s breakfast out of it!

  3. What’s clear to me now is that there’s no recognition of or respect for the C- Word.
    No one wants to hear it said. Or debate it.
    And reach agreement on it.
    What is it?
    Consistency !
    Consistency of Definition of what it is we are all talking about.
    The results we bandied about were, you and I know, though some didn’t, not Absolutes.
    They were Relative.
    By which we, on my side of the fence, would say that this Campaign A, is (probably) better (for what I surmise you want/need) than Campaign B.
    We therefore propose Campaign A at this Price.
    Etc etc.
    Yes. Undoubtedly it was simpler.
    Because we defined the Rules of the Game before the Start.
    And then a straight Yes, No, or Let’s Talk about it… would suffice.
    But as you say if it’s now “Apples and Oranges” …

  4. Exactly right..
    See an earlier Cog Blog on why words and definitions matter.

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