Brand Messaging and the 5,000 Myth

The magical 5,000. It’s a widely known (and quoted) figure among marketers and brand communicators that consumers come into contact with at least 5,000 brand messages a day. But why is this touted figure so important? Or is it?


From ads, billboards and POP displays to clothing labels, container logos and packaging, Americans are exposed to seemingly endless pieces of marketing content every day.

While some market research experts claim that consumers come in contact with 5,000 brand messages each day, is that number fact or fiction? From the numerous conflicting sources, it seems that the 5,000 number is a myth amongst advertisers and branding experts, driving marketers to produce ever-more content, so they can create the one message that grabs their target audience’s attention. But after a certain point, consumers cry, “Enough!” and clamor for more white space in a world wallpapered with branding.

The truth is that consumers today are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information that bombards them on an hourly basis. According to market research firm Yankelovich, the daily number is 5,000, but others disagree with that figure, sometimes by a large margin. Even if true, why do the figure and the question matter so much? Why are so many marketing and branding professionals pumping time, resources, and energy into responding to this data point? Are they just keeping up with the Joneses?

The answer is that brands are desperately trying to cut through the clutter that consumers have to wade through on a daily basis. Clutter that is often irrelevant to their wants and needs. Brands are solving for volume when they should be striving for clarity and connection. Brands today need to do more than merely deliver their targeted message to their target audiences. What brands really need is connection with consumers – that certain stickiness that activates consumers and creates a meaningful relationship with customers.

Branding interaction and engagement

Far more important than volume and frequency of marketing content is how it resonates with its target. That connection that a viewer, reader or listener feels to a brand via its content is what translates to loyalty and interest, and ultimately, it is hoped, action in the form of sales and advocacy. Today’s successful marketers would do well to heed the words of one Don Draper, Mad Menextraordinaire when he says, “[T]echnology is a glittering lure. But there’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product.”

Marketers today must not only consider the best message, time and delivery to reach their target audiences, but also the channel that will optimize engagement. Most marketers know that they have about three seconds to hook an audience member, whether through an irresistible email subject line, an eye-catching logo, mouth-watering packaging, or a jingle or tagline that stays in your ear all day. It’s not enough to be in their face – marketers have to know what consumers care about and how a product or service matches up to consumer value, perception and desire.

In today’s cluttered brand environment, we know that cost is most often not the most important driver for consumers. People will buy a product or service whose philosophy aligns with their own, aspirational or otherwise. As we recently wrote in our blog Ascending the Brand Food Chain, “The big idea is the why behind your brand. It’s both aspirational and actionable. It’s an emotion brought to life.”

Where Is Your Brand on the Brand Food Chain?

We’ve written about the dynamics of the brand food chain, and how marketers can scale it. Because consumers are so inundated with messages, it’s imperative for brands to reach that sticky spot we’ve been talking about. Buyers won’t just spend based on price: think of the billionaire entrepreneur who will only drink Budweiser because it reminds him of “the good old days” or the cash-strapped college student who will eat Ramen all week to afford their daily fix of Starbucks because they are so loyal to the brand – and because, caffeine. Smart brands know that the key to the kingdom lies in the emotional connection they make with their audiences.

Quality over Quantity

Yankelovich Partners is just one example of many experts who have done research on this topic releasing a number, or several numbers, and these numbers spread like the game “Telephone,” shrinking, growing and morphing along the way. For example, the VP of Advertising at General Foods in 1957 stated after conducting a little research, that for a family of four there were 1,518 exposures to advertisements per day. Similar to other experts, he was looking for a high number to emphasize a point in a speech. This number was then cited by journalists and slowly evolved to the exposures for an individual, rather than a family of four.

What variables an expert decides to include in their data could make all the difference in why one expert quotes 5,000 versus another expert quoting 300-700. Yankelovich came to their 5,000 estimate by including exposures to advertisements and brand logos that were paid for and/or within proximity to someone – basically anything a person is within sightline to, if it was paid to be there or not, scores a tick mark. According to The New York Times, this could include every time you pass a label in the grocery store, label on everything you wear, condiments in your fridge, or even the cars on the highway.

Comparing data sets is like comparing applesauce to appletinis; they’re made from the same fruit, but the similarities end there. What also gives the data better context is when we can fully understand what defines the information. While an honest connection to target audience is the Holy Grail of branding, brand communicators shouldn’t rely on a flawed mathematical formula to dictate how they interact with data.

According to Adrenaline’s Scott Florini, “Poorly interpreted, data has the ability to skew not only perspectives, but possibilities for growth by brands. Tell the wrong story in the wrong way, and you risk a bunk attempt at connecting with the right audience.” Being responsible with data is critical to any strategic decision made by a brand, particularly how to engage with the people behind the numbers. You know, the ones whose emotions are driving their purchases and loyalties.

Let us know what you think. Are there really 5,000 branded messages a day and does it really matter? Use #5000myth and let us know your thoughts.

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