It’s easy for those of us with “digital” in our titles to neglect the past when looking for insights into the future. And, if we are honest, binging on the exploits of Sterling Cooper may be our only form of looking backward.

Mad Men aside, there’s another media titan whose writings are as equally insightful as the wisdom that passed from the desks of the Mad Men David Ogilvy or Bill Bernbach into pitch decks and blog posts 50 years later.

Erwin Ephron enjoyed a long career as a media researcher and whose recency planning concept “transformed an industry“. From his early work at Nielsen to his agency Ephron, Raboy & Tsao, his ideas on advertising effectiveness and media are equally relevant today as they were during the early advent of digital advertising.

His most famous advertising analogy – about cereal – is something any marketer should take with them: “Relevance isn’t mysterious. For Kellogg’s cornflakes, it may be as simple as an empty cereal box at breakfast.”

His simple, yet thought-provoking papers provide clear direction for enrollment marketers, who compete in a vast yet fragmented media landscape – more so as new social media platforms continue to model themselves after traditional media.

To strengthen your marketing and media planning, here are six lessons marketers can learn from the wisdom and many writings of Erwin Ephron.

1. What’s going on inside the consumer’s head when a message is received is the most important environment of all.

If you look across the industry’s response to Ephron’s ideas, the concept of recency planning is said to have “transformed” the industry. Closely related to this concept is receptivity, or the “psychological dimensions of response” at the time of ad delivery. According to Ephron, many champion the media environment (content, quality, media context), but what a person is thinking, feeling, or doing at the time of communication can “greatly enhance” the response. For example, advertising a weeklong detox program on Monday, when people have overeaten or partied all weekend long.

2. Plan for recency, not frequency. And when budgets are tight, choose reach over frequency.

Both reach and frequency are important to producing advertising effects. The “rule of 7” and “three exposures is the optimum number” have been the dominant principles of effective frequency. Without getting into retargeting and frequency distribution issues, when working with limited budgets and planning your media, recency is a better goal than frequency. According to Ephron, “today, the real media target isn’t consumers, it’s their purchases.”

Similarly, he was a faithful advocate of reach. Reaching one additional customer, as close to a decision, is better than reaching the same customer a second time. Not only is the first exposure most cost-effective, but the impressions saved on frequency can be used to continue to extend your reach throughout the duration of a campaign.

3. The one piece of information about a consumer that will predict brand purchase, is where the consumer lives, not who the consumer is.

Ephron was quick to remind the reader that geo-targeting existed well before the internet – as spot planning. According to Ephron, “The range in per-capita consumer value to a brand, whether in terms of users, usage or actual sales, is considerably greater market-by-market, that it is by demo or lifestyle.” We all have strong markets and bad markets. Instead of trying to expand into new markets or improve bad markets, increase presence in the strong markets.

4. Plan for “degree of attention.”

Fragmentation and passive media environments have led to more media choices and budget decisions. Regardless of the objective, attention is a scarce resource. When selecting deliverables, keep Ephron’s “eyes-on/ears-open to the screen” in mind. Budget first for high-quality, high-impact ad units. Or, another way to look at it, favor the channels (or ad types) that have the highest degree of attention. Screen coverage, brand prominence, and sound-on viewing are important characteristics that influence attention.

5. Treat media mix like a balanced diet.

In terms of developing “laws of advertising,” Ephron approached it as only as he would – through meal planning. His advice, or “third law”, states: “Marketing-mix models show sales response to a medium is inversely related to its share of advertising dollars. As more dollars are spent . . . the sales response per-dollar for that medium tends to go down.” I think there is a literal interpretation of Ephron’s belief – one that requires modeling capabilities – and there is an interpretation that should act as a strategic guidepost.

When we understand the entirety of our marketing mix and view it as an integrated effort, we can develop plans where messaging should work in concert among activities to continue to reinforce as well as refresh with each exposure. Continuing to increase ad spend to squeeze out any last remaining conversions may look nice in the short-term, but rarely does it stimulate long-term demand.

6. The assumed ability of an ad in a given medium is to sell the advertiser’s product.

When selling to Gen Z, I fear that we get too caught up in “engagement” and “authenticity.” Not only does this create unnecessary metrics to try and measure, neither present valid tests for ad success nor provide proxies for marketing objectives. The more we prioritize these metrics, the more we make unnecessary links to real business results. Whether it’s apps or deposits, our advertising efforts should be held accountable.

Unfortunately, Ephron died in 2013. While his extremely insightful The Ephron Letter may have ended, his ideas on media and advertising should be considered must-reads by any marketer.

Cover image source: Kina To