Frequency in marketing, advertising frequency, and reach and frequency calculator

What is frequency in marketing and advertising? How can you calculate the average frequency of a campaign?

Average frequency calculator

What is frequency in marketing?

Advertising frequency is the number of times an ad or impression has been served, per unique user. Frequency is a key metric for brand campaigns, especially when calculating to see how many times someone in your target audience has been exposed to an ad. We discuss the optimum frequency level for your objective and how you should set a frequency cap in the section below.

Frequency - alongside reach - were the classic media metrics that were used to calculate delivery across offline channels such as television and print. While they were estimates, they were (and still are) commonly accepted and used to base judgments on how much budget should be used for certain media channels and vendors.

In the digital world, this has moved on substantially, especially as we are now able to report on very granular levels of delivery data. This however, comes with a caveat - it is becoming increasingly harder to accurately measure frequency as the number of devices the average person uses on a day-to-day basis has increased tenfold. With the proliferation of devices comes the challenge of accurately tracking exposure to a campaign (as it is hard to link a single user to multiple devices) when cross-device targeting has not been 100% solved.

The message here is that use the frequency metric in digital campaigns as a guide, rather than an absolute truth - if it looks high then you are most likely spamming users, annoying them and ultimately damaging your brand. If it is too low, are users being exposed enough to take on your campaign message?

Average frequency formula

To calculate average frequency, you will need the following metrics:

  1. Impressions delivered
  2. Reach / unique users


Frequency capping

What is the perfect frequency? This is not a question that has an answer, but when thinking about the average frequency you wish your campaign to deliver, you will want to link it back to your campaign objectives and take into consideration how past campaign frequency numbers influenced sales or brand metrics. A low frequency will ensure that you are reaching a wider group of users, while a high frequency narrows your reach, but boosts the exposure your users will have to the campaign.

We recommend imposing a frequency cap every time you run a digital campaign, always basing it on your campaign objective. Frequency capping limits the number of times a user will be exposed to an ad over a period of time. This could be set at a lifetime level, a weekly level or even daily. Whichever you choose, always have the users' experience in mind. How often would you want to see an ad before it starts to annoy you?

Different targeting tactics will also influence your frequency cap. When re-targeting users who are warmer prospects, you will want to impose a higher frequency cap to nudge users to convert. If they are a cold prospect and they are not interested in the brand, you could be doing more harm than good if you continue to target them with a frequency too high.

For branding campaigns, we would recommend a frequency cap of 3 ads per week. For performance campaigns, we would recommend the same frequency cap for prospecting, while increasing it for re-targeting strategies, ensuring that you exclude an audience who have finally converted. This way you will not annoy users who have already converted - an issue re-targeting advertisers tend to forget.

Facebook reach and frequency buying

DSPs and buying systems will let the media buyer decide how often they want their ads to be served to each user (frequency capping). On Facebook, there is an entire buying method called Facebook Reach and Frequency, which gives the buyer more control over campaign delivery. It is designed to serve ads to the maximum number of users as possible, within your target audience, in the Facebook ecosystem.

With reach and frequency buying, the buyer is able to control the minimum number of days before the same user is exposed to your ad again and how many times each person sees it, through capping the frequency.

Outside of reach and frequency buying, a user can only impose a Facebook frequency cap via auction buying using “reach” or “brand awareness” objectives. If you have brand campaign objectives, we recommend you stick to reach and frequency buying to ensure you know upfront exactly how many users you are likely to hit and at what frequency.

Related metrics