Ad fatigue: is it the creative or the audience that tires first?

We’ve all seen it happen time and again. The performance of one of our favourite adverts suddenly falls off a cliff. The creative is thrown in the bin. It aged, it got tired. Ad fatigue, we sigh, it’s just what happens.

But is it?

What we really mean by ad fatigue is that the audience gets tired of the ad. Often, a lot of the good performance by an advert can simply be attributed to the fact that it is new. Audiences have not seen the ad multiple times and therefore they are more receptive to it. 

However, when you combine big budgets with the digital industry’s fondness for tight targeting of audiences, quite quickly an ad is only shown to people who have already seen it. 

But often one exposure of a single creative is enough. Recent research from AdEspresso found that with each additional exposure, clicks are harder and more expensive to earn.

To back this up, marketing academic John P. Jones found that “the first opportunity to see (an ad) contributes 73% of the short-term sales effect of advertising.”

At first glance, this might be cause to worry for digital marketers. Ask anyone who plays mobile games and they’ll tell you they see the same few ads over and over again. And therefore, if we were to more strictly limit ad frequency, wouldn’t there just be loads of budget left over unable to be spent? 

But rather than being constraining, mobile marketers can see this as liberating.

We know from the work of Byron Sharp and the Ehrenberg Bass Institute that the best way to grow is to continuously reach as many people in your category as possible. Over-targeting rules people out and means they won’t be exposed to your product’s ad. 

Similarly, research from Binet and Field reveals the impact of ‘share of voice’ on your ‘share of market’. Increase your share of voice and your share of the market will soon catch up. 

Intuitively this all makes sense. Ask yourself which has greater potential to acquire more customers – targeting one person a thousand times, or targeting 1000 people once?

What does this mean for your creatives and their fatigue?

If an ad’s performance tires, then it is time to find a new audience for your ad – not discard it. Don’t overly discriminate in your targeting. However untrendy it is to suggest, people are all more similar than they are different. Loosen up that micro-targeting. Explore new ways to find big, untouched audiences. Give your creative a chance to impact fresh eyes. 

This however doesn’t mean you don’t need new ads. No matter how big your audience is, you will always need new creative. The same-old five or six creative will not do the job forever. Different ads will always be needed, and you can do this in two ways:

  1. Editing existing ads: How can you play with your proven but overused ads to freshen them up? Maybe change some colour, move some elements around, or tweak your copy.
  2. Come up with new concepts: Know your core benefits and why someone might use your product. What new ways can you think of repeating those reasons?


So, is it the audience or the creative that tires? 

Well, it’s both. The challenge is to keep a large audience engaged with ads they haven’t seen before. That means new ads to promote and new people to reach.

Send your creative soaring

Get stuck into our one-stop guide: “Level up your mobile ad creative”.


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