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Media Consultant Erwin Ephron Dies at 79

Influential Planner Is Considered Father of 'Recency'

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Erwin Ephron, one of the most influential consultants in media planning, died Sunday at age 79 after a long illness. He leaves behind a legacy that included developing the concept of "recency" still widely in use today.

Erwin Ephron speaks to 2004 Television Bureau of Advertising conference.
Erwin Ephron speaks to 2004 Television Bureau of Advertising conference.

After a long media career that included work at BBDO and his own agency Ephron, Raboy & Tsao, Mr. Ephron formed the consulting firm Ephron Papazian & Ephron in the early 1990s. He was honored by American Demographics Magazine in 2003 as one of the five most- influential media people of the past 25 years.

Reach (or how many people ads reach) and frequency (how often they're reached) had long been the cornerstones of media planning when Mr. Ephron in 1995 put forward the idea of "recency," which held that ad impressions closest to the time of purchase are the most powerful. It followed that reaching consumers at the right time -- when they're in the market to buy -- was key, as opposed to simply reaching them often.

Mr. Ephron would later liken frequency to crabgrass, theorizing that advertisers were helping spawn ad avoidance with plans that carelessly inundate the same people with the same ads over and over.

Mr. Ephron's influence was also felt in the media agencies he helped launch through his consulting and research assistance, said Mary Beth Price, a Procter & Gamble Co. alum who turned to him in the early days of launching her agency Media That Works, now independent Empower MediaMarketing, Cincinnati.

"He understood the politics of media, but he was always true to his beliefs," said Ms. Price "He wasn't afraid to speak his mind."

So when advertisers began pushing to measure consumer "engagement" with media, Mr. Ephron in 2006 took the contrarian stance that media's job was to deliver the audience, while it was the job of the advertising to capture people's attention.

He also wasn't afraid to poke fun at whole industries. "Looking for advertising effectiveness in package-goods is like the drunk looking for his keys under a lamppost because that's where the light is," Mr. Ephron told Advertising Age in 2004. His point was that researchers have focused on CPG because it has better data to draw on, but the practice can give media generally, particularly TV, a bad rap because the industry's mature brands deliver less sales impact than other types of products and services can.

"There are many people who have the smarts to do the research but aren't very facile at explaining it to the common man," Ms. Price said. Mr. Ephron "was always good at that. So you knew if you brought him to a meeting, the client's eyes wouldn't glaze over."

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