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Footprints on the seashore: Measuring reach vs. impressions in a shifting media landscape.

Reach vs. Impressions: What Savvy Media Buyers Should Know

December 19th, 2016   ||    by Melanie Brown   ||    No Comments

When it comes to television advertising, certain bits of jargon are often tossed around as part of a set. Reach, impressions and frequency; ratings and share; and GRPs and CPM: It can become difficult to separate one metric from another. And in the world of TV advertising, these metrics usually work hand in hand. So when it comes to comparing reach vs. impressions, it’s not surprising to find some ongoing confusion between the two.


For TV advertisers, the goal of a campaign is to attract customers to a brand or brick-and-mortar store in order to boost sales. As long as people are coming through the door or searching for the product online, the campaign is considered successful. So one goal of a campaign is to get the ad in front of as many different sets of eyes as possible—this is called reach. Television is a spectacular tool for maximizing reach, because millions of people are generally watching TV at any given time.


Each time an ad is viewed, that ad is said to have generated an impression. The catch with impressions is that one person can produce more than one of them. Each view is counted, whether the ad is being seen for the first or the 99th time by the same person. So although an ad is getting 100 impressions, it could technically be reaching no more than a single person. What makes a TV campaign ultimately work is when it reaches its target audience with multiple impressions—or frequency.

Reach vs. Impressions vs. Frequency

To those who aren’t in the know, the goal of a TV campaign may seem to simply involve getting a many people as possible in the door. But the real work comes from getting them to go through the door over and over again. So it’s not enough for a campaign to simply reach as many new people as it can; nor is it enough to keep exposing the same people over and over again to the same message. It’s important for a campaign to strike the right balance between reaching new people in a target audience and overexposing existing customers. The goal is to reach the point of optimal frequency, exposing a viewer to a campaign enough times that the viewer seeks out the advertiser in order to fulfill a need, and then providing that viewer just enough added exposure to keep him or her coming back.

Bringing It All Together

As savvy media buyers know, TV campaigns are multifaceted. Finding the right mix of reach and impressions means finding a balance of familiar channels along with new channels where the target audience might also be. With the wealth of new data provided by audience research companies like Nielsen, Kantar, and Rentrak, among others, programmatic platforms are easier to use than ever, offering some of the most effective ways to find target audiences in new places, like on untapped networks and at different times of day. The programmatic approach is one more way to bolster the tried-and-true strategies that are traditionally addressed through up-front buys each year.

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