160/90 VP, Director of Media Services Chris Ebmeyer, explains the importance of recognizing variations and inaccuracies in our audiences.


It’s about time we had an honest conversation about media reach, and the benefits to adopting a “reach-first” mindset for most of our paid media clients.

But let’s step back for a minute and talk about why we think that we’ve lost sight of the importance of reach, namely precise digital targeting.

With the advent of more and more ways to target digitally, and the more “precise” audiences we could seemingly build within our platforms, many media agencies became blinded by the possibilities of an audience with 100% composition. If we were targeting first-time homebuyers, or high-school students interested in going to college for oceanography, or even 2 cat households, there was a data set for that, and we were thrilled. Load up the data and go.

But this wasn’t the case. What we had were sometimes wildly incomplete views of consumers, culled from, many times, inaccurate cookie data, but we pressed on, because we figured it was better than nothing, right? Well, actually, “nothing” might be more effective based on research done by Dr. Augustine Fou.

This is in no way a piece about how we should throw out targeting, or cookie data, or any of the tools we have at our disposal for targeting, no. We still need to set some guardrails on our activity, especially when it comes to things like age, sex, geo, and to a degree HHI. But what we should think more about is the way that we approach these targets. We cannot look at these groups as one, homogenized target pool, we have to assume there are variations and inaccuracies in our audiences, and in that case, we need to reach everyone, because we don’t really know the truth about the audience pool we’re going after, the purity of it or the true composition.

We know directionally that larger audiences should be the correct approach but hammering away with frequency at a small portion of them is not going to bring the returns that we might see versus if we reached ALL of them. This ensures that we accomplish several things:

  1. Greater impact from increased exposure

  2. Growth from light category users

  3. Brand recency in buying situations

  4. Greater coverage of future customers


For marketers, there are two key elements into advertising effectiveness. In looking at a study by Nielsen Catalina Solutions from 2017, reach contributed 22% to sales, while the creative itself contributed 47%. Targeting only contributed 9%. So, what does that tell us? First, creative is the key driver in campaign outcomes, but after that, reach is a key factor in determining success. It indicates that brands grow mostly from attracting more light and non-buyers or customers, and many of these need to reach people who might never be a customer as brands seldom differ in their customer bases.

The response to advertising has diminishing returns. It takes as few as one exposure for ads to have an impact, and the value of incremental exposures declines with an increase in frequency. Going from 0 to 1 has the biggest impact.

Access to data and customer targeting advances has created an environment where we’ve been blinded by the prospect of audience composition, and micro-targeting. As technology has progressed, and the tools we now use to find audiences have emerged, we’ve begun to see clearly some of the drawbacks, which has swung the paid media pendulum in the direction of reach-first, again.