I just want to come back to last week’s topic.

Five thousand.





That’s how many messages people are exposed to every day.

Or, at least, that’s a figure you’ll come across quite a bit online and on social media platforms. It kept cropping up when I was researching last week’s post. And, coincidentally, on the same day that post went live, the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) put out an Instagram repeating the number.

But where does it come from?

According to the CMI, it comes from a study done by Yankelovich—a marketing and research company that merged with another firm in 2008 to become The Futures Company.

Wait. What?

Yankelovich ceased to exist in 2008. So the figure of 5,000 is at least seven years old already.

In fact, it’s worse.

In a January 2007 article titled Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad, the New York Times references Yankelovich and its study. It states the research was done “last spring”. That dates the fact finding to early 2006. Almost ten years ago.

Ten years and we’re still quoting Yankelovich’s figure as gospel. We should be ashamed of ourselves. Don’t take this as a dig at the CMI. Other marketing people have used this figure in recent years. As a marketing collective, we should feel a bit silly.

Not only because the figure is outdated. Also because I doubt the figure is even a sensible one for us to be using to begin with.

Is 5,000 realistic?

If you sleep eight hours a day, you’re left with 16 waking hours.

Cramming 5,000 marketing messages in to 16 hours means you’d have to be exposed to one every 11.5 seconds. Non-stop, from the second you wake up to the moment you fall asleep.

How is that even possible?

It assumes people have very little else to pay attention to. In fact, they pay attention to a great deal of other things. That’s how car collisions are avoided. And how work gets done. And babies made. And food cooked.

It also assumes people are powerless to ignore marketing messages. Not so. People have an ability to filter out irrelevancies to concentrate on the task at hand. Even on platforms designed to push marketing, people aren’t powerless. That’s what the fast-forward button is for. And adblockers. 

Simply putting out a messages doesn’t mean it will be heard or seen. For instance, modern western cities are crammed with visual advertising. Does anyone for a moment think that their citizens see all of it as they go about their daily lives? Let alone consciously absorb all of these messages?

The big question

Of course, you could argue that none of this debunks the number of people being “exposed” 5,000 marketing messages. It all depends on what you understand by “exposed”. Simply being in the same environment as the message could constitute exposure to it. Consequently, you could say my logic is faulty and built on a big, steaming pile of non sequiturs.

So, all right, let’s assume everyone is exposed to 5,000 marketing messages every day. That leads to an even tougher question for us as marketers. Why don’t they all take 5,000 purchasing actions?