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Multi-Channel Frequency Capping: Challenges and Solutions

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Frequency capping refers to the maximum number of times an ad is scheduled to be shown to a user over a specific period of time. This will be variously set depending on media channels, platforms, and operating systems.

How many times should an ad be displayed to a user? What is the optimum frequency that brings the best results? There can’t be a universal answer. The answer depends on many variables. Some amount of testing, measuring and strategizing are needed to find the optimum for each case.

There are people who believe that too much of bombarding with an ad will create distaste and immunity in the audience. Keeping away from too much intrusiveness is advisable as users hate aggressive stalking. This calls for stricter frequency caps.

There are others who believe that brand recall will be great when the ad is served more frequently. They argue for liberal frequency capping.

One simple consensus could be that ads for brand building can be served many times more (liberal frequency capping), and ads that expect user response should be served modestly (stricter frequency capping). The type of ad, a variety of ad creatives available, and the buying model are three major factors that impact ad-serving frequency.

Type: Traditional display ads like banners are not normally too intrusive. They sit somewhere, and it is easy for the user to ignore them. But innovative ad types like interstitials, pop-ups and pop-unders (screen-takeover ads) disrupt smooth user experience. Therefore, liberal capping is okay for traditional ad types, but capping should be stricter for the more intrusive types.

Variety: If an advertiser has only a few creatives for display, the same ad will pop up frequently and repel the viewer. If there is a good number of interesting creatives, they keep rotating. Stricter capping is advised if creatives are fewer and liberal capping if there is sufficient variety.

Buying model: Ad impressions may be bought for CPM, CPC or CPA. In the CPM mode (cost per mille—cost per thousand impressions), if the ad is displayed to the same user too many times, the allowed quota will soon be over; but the message will reach only a few people. In CPC (cost per click) and CPA (cost per action) modes, billing happens only when the user performs an action on the ad. Moral: Stricter capping is needed for CPM mode; the other modes take care of themselves.

Frequency capping has always been debatable. With earnest efforts, things can still go wrong in many cases. For example, when an ad is being served through multiple ad networks, since they do not share the cookie IDs of the users, there are chances of frequency capping violations.

A breaking development in modern-day campaign management solutions is the emergence of real-time bidding (RTB). RTB is a conclusive solution to the challenges of frequency capping. It provides advertisers the agility to serve the right impression to the right user at the right time—the three key variables that make frequency capping necessary. RTB gives control over the fourth important variable—the price. Thus, it creates a win-win situation for advertisers, ad platforms and users.

RTB is here to stay, and frequency capping woes will go away for good. We’ll discuss more on RTB in the coming weeks.

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