What the F-Cap?

By BKV in Digital Marketing on December 20th, 2016

frequency capping, direct marketing, advertising

We’ve all been there—when that shoe you looked at last week on a big retail website follows you around the web. Days, weeks and even months later, the shoe is still following you around, showing up on every website you visit. It is an advertiser’s responsibility to make sure users aren’t bothered, or followed, by their ads and can help combat these “stalking” ads by setting frequency caps. First and foremost, what is frequency capping (or F-Capping) and why should we use it? Frequency capping is setting a limit to the number of times a user or cookie ID is exposed to your ad. Setting a cap can help prevent users from becoming annoyed or exasperated by your brand, while also helping to eliminate waste and increase reach.

When setting up a campaign using frequency capping, as with all campaigns, you should first establish your goals. In regards to frequency capping, the goals should depend on whether your brand is more focused on performance or user experience.  For example, if the goal is to make sure your entire audience is exposed to your ad repeatedly to help increase brand recall, than you should set a higher frequency cap, i.e., 10 to 15 per day. Setting a frequency cap of 10-15 means a consumer or cookie ID will not be exposed to your ad more than 10 to 15 times per day. If you are more concerned about the user experience and attitude towards your brand, or if you are trying to expand reach, it is recommended that you set a lower frequency cap, i.e. 2-5. Again, that means your audience will not see your ad more than 2 to 5 times per day.

Before deciding whether or not you should use frequency capping, and what your cap should be, there are a few additional variables to consider:

  • What is the message?
  • How large is the audience?
  • What is your budget?
  • How long is the campaign running for?
  • How many partners are you using?

The message

Are you enticing a call to action or building awareness? An urgent message may call for a higher frequency cap if the CTA, or whatever you’re asking the

consumer to do, is time-specific. In this case, you will want to set a higher cap so your target audience is exposed to your ad more often over the course of the campaign. Sometimes a frequency cap is not necessary because a DSP will optimize towards frequency automatically. For example, when we implemented an F-cap for one of our clients with a high performing DSP, with a frequency of four to five ad exposures, the campaign had a high conversion rate. However, we also saw a significant conversion lift when removing the cap and serving the ad six to 33 times, conversions we would not have received if the cap was set too low. While we did see an improvement in CPA once removing the cap, it is still best practice to test, as all partners are not created equal and performance may vary by vertical. 

Audience size

Having a small audience pool means you will likely hit the same consumer multiple times. If the audience pool is small use a low cap, and vice versa. However, using a lower frequency cap on a smaller audience will limit your spend. When targeting a small cookie pool, make sure to have an appropriate size budget and lower frequency cap.


If you are limited with a smaller budget, you will want to set a low frequency cap in order to not waste media spend via impressions serving ads to the same users over and over again. If you have a larger budget to work with, you may want to set a higher cap to hit the same users multiple times in an effort to initiate a direct response.

Campaign duration

If your campaign is running for an extended period of time (e.g., quarterly), you may want to set a low frequency cap to avoid brand fatigue. If your campaign flight is limited (e.g., monthly), you may want to set a higher frequency cap to make sure the desired audience has noticed your ad.

Multiple partners

It is important to keep in mind that when utilizing multiple display partners, each partner could be hitting the same person, especially in a remarketing campaign. A frequency cap is usually set at the partner level, so keep in mind the number of times one individual could be exposed to your ad across all partners. For example, if the frequency cap is set at five times a day, across five partners, a user could potentially be exposed to your ad 25 times in one day.

Taking all the above into consideration, what is the best scenario to use frequency capping?

Frequency capping is most commonly associated with retargeting campaigns. Typically, the retargeting audience pool is much smaller than a prospecting audience size. It is tempting to want to repeatedly market to users who have already been to your site, due to the high CR. However, if advertisers are not careful and have a large portion of their budget dedicated to remarketing, you risk overexposing your audience to your messaging—which can lead to negative brand sentiment. Since the audience pool is small, it is essential to set a low cap, especially if running across multiple partners.

How do you know where to set your frequency cap? As is the answer with most display campaigns: Test, test…and test some more! For remarketing, or any campaign, the first step in deciding where to set the cap is to pull a frequency-to-conversion report using your ad server (Atlas, DCM, etc.) or at the partner level (who should be able to supply this for you). Looking at both the frequency of the ad served compared to the conversions, or conversion rate, you can analyze the optimal frequency, or the  frequency at which you are seeing diminishing returns. Be mindful when testing this measure against other strategies, such as testing new creative or experimenting with different landing pages, since this can skew your results.


Utilizing frequency capping in your campaign can help drive better results with your target audience by limiting the number of times that cookie ID is shown one of your advertisements. This strategy eliminates the annoyance users may have if they are shown your advertisements repeatedly, and in turn can help reduce wasted media spend. There is not a one-size-fits-all with F-capping;the only true way to find the optimal frequency cap is to look across all aspects of your campaign: the message, the audience size, the budget, the campaign duration, and the number of partners your media plan utilizes. When you find that cap “sweet spot,” you are successfully delivering a pleasant user experience while also making the most efficient use of your media spend.

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